Spring forward

The shift to daylight savings time is always a problem for sleeping. It doesn’t help much when you are twice woken up by sharp pains in your lower back. Apparently I was rolling over when the pain hit. It felt like someone was sticking a needle in me. When I did get out of bed, I had a sharp pain across my lower back.

Four hours later my back felt fine. Go figure.

I did some light work around the house. I was surprised that my lower back didn’t start aching until I’d been going at it for over an hour.

Next up was a ride up the Mount Vernon Trail to DC to check out the first blossoming trees of the year. The Enid Haupt Garden is situated at the rear of the Smithsonian castle. The flower beds had been planted and the magnolia trees were in the first stages of bloom. (The blossoms weren’t open but they were colorful nonetheless.)

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There was a controlled burn about 35 miles to the southeast. This accounts for the slight haze in what otherwise would have been a perfect spring sky.

I then rode down the national Mall slaloming through scores of tourists along the way. The reflecting pool between the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial had been emptied.  I couldn’t resist going for a ride in it. I had lots of company.

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The ride home was into the wind. I didn’t mind.

Time to hit the hay. That lost hour of sleep is catching up with me.

Four weeks

Today marked four weeks since I received epidural injections of cortisone. My condition continues to fluctuate. The referred pain in my left leg and hip is mostly gone. I can’t tell if this is the result of the cortisone or the fact that I am wary of doing much on my feet.

I had a nasty back spasm in my lower right back and pelvis earlier in the week. It left me doubled over and in considerable pain. Ibuprofen and rest fixed it but obviously this shouldn’t be happening.

I get little stabbing reminders that feel like the same sort of spasm is about to hit then they go away. Much of the time I feel like my lower back or my leg is about to go haywire but it doesn’t. It’s as if my body is taunting me. To say that this is frustrating is an understatement.

One thing I did do this week was ready my lawn mower for spring. In the process I found out that the blade wouldn’t come off. I tried force, WD40, and a solvent. Nothing worked. So I lifted the mower into the trunk of my car and took it to a repair shop. The point here is that I lifted this ungainly metal thing and moved it around without totally messing up my back. I think if it had weighed five more pounds I would have regretted my decision.

I also went for a flat two mile walk in Huntley Meadows Park. I made it about five minutes before my lower back started to ache. After another five minutes I started using a cane. I stopped a few times to take in the view. This helped my back quite a lot. I made it the entire way without problem but my walking mechanics are still not quite right.

I go back to the pain doctor on Monday. I’ll be interested to see what she says. Do I get another injection or not? My plans for the spring and the summer are on hold until I have some idea what my body will be able to tolerate. Can I sleep in a tent? Can I ride long distances day after day? We’ll see.

One thing to keep in mind is that steroid injections can cause a temporary decrease in immunity. Normally, I wouldn’t give this a second thought but it would be bad news to be exposed to the coronavirus after having another shot.

As far as biking is concerned, I’m back to averaging about 30 miles per day (with one day off per week). I feel strong except for the fact that winter’s weight gain isn’t doing me any favors on hills. I’ve ridden a few days in shorts which seems to help my mechanics, not to mention my frame of mind. My knee and hip problems from last summer are gone.

This morning I rode to and from Friday Coffee Club in DC, a 29-mile round trip. As I got underway, I saw the edge of a storm front that looked like a mountain range in the predawn light.

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This brought to mind the gradual approach to the Rockies in Montana in 2018. I sure hope I can get back out on the open road this summer.

Bike to What Day?

Okay, technically, I don’t work. But I hear most people do. How convenient because National Bike to Work Day happens every year on the third Friday in May. This year that will be May 15.  And registration is now open here in the DC area.

It’s the perfect opportunity to try bike commuting. You can ride alone, with a friend, or in a caravan (or should that be a bikavan?). Along the way you can hit your designated pitstop. That’s where you’ll find your free t-shirt and other free stuff.

Did I mention that Bike to Work Day is free?

And if you’re really rambunctious you can stop at other pitstops and pick up more free stuff.  (Pro tip: bring a spare pannier for all your free goodies.)

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, right?

You might be late for work. What do you mean your boss doesn’t like it when she’s late to work. Put a Bike to Work Day sign on her door. Then sign her up. Better yet tell your HR manager. Put a sign on his door. Sign him up too.

If you don’t work, invent a job. I am the Chief Executive Officer and President of the Rootchopper Institute.  (We’re still working on that all important mission statement.)

After work there are happy hours which is a good thing because you will be happy. Trust me. These aren’t free. You won’t care.

So click the link below and sign up. Act now. Don’t delay. Limited time offer. Restrictions apply. Blah blah blah.

https://www.biketoworkmetrodc.org/

 

 

 

 

It started out okay then…

Today’s bike ride was supposed to be a test of the saddle position on The Mule. Before I began, I slid the saddle back a couple of millimeters on its rails. I could tell immediately that I had hit the sweet spot. It felt perfect.

Cause for celebration right?

About a half mile into the ride, I noticed the speed on my bicycle computer was toggling up and down at random. I thought maybe there was some electrical interference from my phone but after several adjustments (e.g., removing my phone from my handlebar bag, removing my keys with its Tile device from the bag, turning off my phone altogether) I realized that my trusty bike computer was kaput.

Making lemonade from lemons, I decided to ride to bike shops in search of a new computer.

I rode to Conte’s bike shop in Old Town but didn’t see anything that floated my boat in their display case. Next I rode up the King Street bike lanes to Spokes Etc. on Quaker Lane. They had a nice one but it only displayed four digits for total trip distance. Since my bike has over 56,200 miles on its odometer, this wouldn’t do.

So I headed out King Street to REI in Baileys Crossroads. There being no bike lane beyond Quaker Lane, just gobs of cars piloted by impatient drivers, this would prove to be a rather unpleasant experience. As is obvious, I survived the ordeal but it wasn’t much fun.

At REI I decided to roll The Mule up the five steps to the front door instead of walking to the far side of the doorway to use the ramp. What could go wrong?

Halfway up the steps my lower back seized up with a spike of pain the likes of which I haven’t felt in months. I stopped, took a second to let the pain subside, then pushed The Mule to the landing in front of the door.

REI had a bike computer that did all the tricks I wanted so I bought it. The wait in line was rather painful but my back stayed calm.

I used the ramp leaving the store. Duh. Then rode hilly Carlyn Springs Road to the W&OD Trail. The fact that I could get on my bike and ride it up hills without pain tells me that this episode was a spinal issue not a muscle issue.

I rode home without another back episode. My new saddle position caused me no pain of any sort, even my left knee cap stopped barking at me.

At home I installed the new computer on my bike. Its display is about 50 percent bigger than my old one. Now I can see clearly how slow I am. Then again, if I want an ego boost I just switch to odometer mode: 56,229 miles.

The Mule abides even if my back doesn’t.

 

 

Leaping toward spring

February was an eventful month. I rode 25 of 29 days for 629 miles. 104 miles over 7 days were indoors using Big Nellie on a resistance trainer. I hit 15,000 miles on my CrossCheck. My longest ride was 51 1/2 miles on The Mule. So far this year, I’ve ridden 1,341 miles.

Of course, the biggest thing was that I finally got cortisone shots in my back to reduce the nerve pain in my leg and lower back. Mostly, it worked but my body is far from normal. I have pain of one sort or another every day, but at least I can walk a few hundred yards without a cane. I go back to the doctor soon. We’ll talk about whether I should get a second set of injections.

Since this is reading season, I managed to read three books: Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks.

I attended some interesting events. The WABA Annual Meeting and Awards was fun. It was nice to see some friends being recognized. Three kids were given awards for presenting testimony before a Vision Zero meeting of city council members. I watched the testimony online and I have to say that these kids were awesome. (They were nine or ten years old at the time of the hearing.)

I attended a screening of a short film about Black American Sign Language at Gallaudet University in DC. Thanks for the invite to Katie Lee, a friend who works at the Gallaudet U. Press. I managed not to see her. The place was packed.

I also went to Amber Sparks’s book tour event at Politics and Prose. She’s the wife of Chris, a former co-worker.  Her book has gotten rave reviews in the Washington Post and on NPR.

And speaking of former co-workers, I had a drink with Jessica who is back from her whirlwind tour down the Pacific Rim. This followed a very long trip to South America, Antarctica, and Easter Island. Intrepid she is. As good as it is to see her, I will miss her posts from the other side of the world.

And, of course, I managed to haul my lazy ass out of bed a few times to ride to DC for Friday Coffee Club. Apparently a new dress code involving wool caps, glasses, and beards has begun to take hold.

And so I forge ahead into March. It’s time to start thinking about a bike tour. Last year I had floods, tornadoes, and mountains. This year I have stenosis and a pandemic. Wherever you go, there you are.

Things are stopping

  • My bike is stopping. On the way to the bike shop in Old Town, a pick up truck tried to go around a car at an intersection. I was on the right hand side of the pick up. I grabbed my brakes and they kinda sorta stopped me. In time. I knocked on the rear fender of the pick up. How about it buddy? Try not to kill me. His windows were open. He didn’t get all road ragey. I think he knew he messed up.
  • A few minutes later I’m inside Conte’s which opened up at the corner of King and Henry streets a year or two ago. The location was once the site of The Bed Store. The Bed Store sold platform beds that broke down into a neat, shipable size. You could put the entire thing and a foam mattress in a VW Golf. I know because that’s how I got it home. My daughter still uses the bed 36 years later. I would gladly buy another but no one knows what happened to the rights to the design after the store closed. I imagine the owner, a stylish woman with white hair, shuffled off this mortal coil long ago.
  • I intended only to buy some brake pads but the folks at Conte’s offered to install them while I waited. I know that compact V-brakes are a pain to work on so I let Bob the mechanic go to work. During my bike tour, three different mechanics adjusted my brakes. It wasn’t until the tour was nearly over, in Carson City, Nevada that someone finally got then working properly. It took Bob a while. The pads went on the front. Bob went back and forth and back and forth methodically tweaking the calipers, the pads, the cable tension. (This would have taken me two or three times as long.) Then he repeated the process on the rear only to find that the cable kept hanging up. He tried to save the cable with lube and fine grit sandpaper (to clear off rust) but eventually threw on a new one. When he was done with the brakes he checked the clearance between the rims and the pads. The back wheel had a teeny wobble. Out came a spoke wrench. Twist one spoke this way, another spoke that way. And Voila! The Mule stops!
  • I went for a 25 mile ride afterward. The brake pull was perfect. The stopping power was the best it’s been in months. And there was no squealing. Bob done good.
  • I rode to the Air Force Memorial in Arlington. It’s three swooping towers of shiny metal, curving skyward. It’s pretty hard to get all three in one picture when you’re standing directly beneath them.IMG_3396
  • After leaving the memorial, I rode to the Washington Boulevard bike trail. It’s a nice trail. Too bad it leads to nothing. IMG_3399
  • About a half mile away, a bike trail runs parallel to US 50, the highway on the bridge in the picture above. Of course, this trail stops without warning too. I often imagine how pissed off drivers would be if the roads they were using just stopped at random places like this. (An example would be I-64 in West Virginia in the 1980s. It just stopped in the middle of nowhere – actually at a place called Sam Black Church. Then, one day while we were driving to the family reunion, it didn’t.)
  • Unlike my brakes, my body was doing not so good. Yesterday’s 51-miler wore me out. I had intended to ride 40 miles today but decided to throw in the towel at 31.
  • And since we’re on the subject of stopping, my back and left leg pain is all but gone, at least as far as everyday activities are concerned. I keep expecting it to come back and lay me out, but it hasn’t happened.

51 miles without stopping

Yesterday was the first real test of how my stenosis recovery is affecting my bike riding. It was in the high 40s when I left home, back on The Mule for the first time in a couple of months. A nice little tailwind pushed me to DC where I found my way to Rock Creek Park after 15 miles of dodging kiddies on wee bikes and bouncing up and down over scores of tree roots. I am pretty sure that the CrossCheck does a better job of cushioning my back from these bumps. Nevertheless, I made it to DC without medical intervention.

Up the creek I rode. For 1 1/2 miles the trail bounced me all over the place. Then I arrived at the cross over point where Beach Drive is closed to cars. The pavement is new and deliciously smooth. The ride is a gradual uphill all the way to Maryland. The creek was babbling. Roller skaters, both old school and in-line, were in heaven. I made it to East West Highway and began the short climb to Jones Mill Road, the halfway point.

Jones Mill took me over a series of rollers to downtown Bethesda where, rather than stay on Woodmont Avenue, the street that I was on, I started wandering about looking for the Capital Crescent Trail. Soon I found myself pointed back the way I came on Woodmont. Hmmm.

I checked the Google, turned around, and rode to the trailhead, managing to avoid two unsignalled right hooks by drivers.

The trail was almost completely blocked by dog leashes. It was like a scene from that Tom Cruise movie where the jewels are protected by criss-crossing lasers. I cruised on through (sorry) without incident. The next seven or so miles were gradually downhill, weaving in and out as I passed walkers and more kiddos learning how to subdue their unruly bikes on training wheels.

By the time I made it back to Georgetown I was pooped. Normally, I get this far without too much fatigue. Normally, I stop in Bethesda for lunch. Today, I was abnormal. So I stopped and ate some mini cookies that Mrs. Rootchopper had put aside on account of their blandness. The bag had only 150 calories of food in it so the cookies barely put a dent in my pathway to bonkdom.

Of course, the last 15 miles was into the wind. Just grind it out, my brain said. My knees and lower back were not in complete agreement but they had no say in the matter. I descended from the 14th Street Bridge to take a hard right onto the Mount Vernon Trail. It was here that I discovered that my brake pads were so worn that they no longer could stop The Mule.

Derp.

I somehow managed not to hit anybody or anything. I even managed to stay on the pavement.

I carefully worked my way through the crowds at Gravelly Point Park and the tourist throngs in Old Town. Claiming no victims, I cruised homeward. I arrived with 51 1/2 miles for the day. My back and knees were sore, but it wasn’t stenosis, just what-hell-are-you-doing-to-us muscle fatigue.

Today’s plan: buy some brake pads.

A #bikedc noobie’s to do list

Julia just moved to DC last week. She came to last night’s #bikedc happy hour hoping to connect with vagabonds and rapscallions. You came to the right place, kid,

Julia was pummeled with advice about what to do and where to ride now that she lives in the bicycling capital of the New World. With that in mind, I thought I’d take the opportunity to make a list of ten things newbies to #bikedc should do.

  1. Ride the Mount Vernon Trail. You can take any of four bridges in DC to the MVT but I suggest starting at Key Bridge in Georgetown. Cross into Virginia, bang a left and soon you’ll be along the banks of the Potomac. Make a day of it.
    • Take a quick hike on Teddy Roosevelt Island
    • Admire the awesome view of the monuments from across the river
    • Check out the planes landing and taking off at National Airport. Don’t be surprised if you get buzzed by a jet using the secondary runway.
    • Take in the bumper car sailboats at Daingerfield Island
    • Have a coffee, snack, beer, or ice cream as you roll through Old Town Alexandria.
    • Ooh and aah under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
    • Keep and eye out for bald eagles. There are at least six nests visible from the trail.
    • Check out Fort Washington across the river.
    • Take a tour of Mt Vernon estate.
  2. Ride to Great Falls National Park in Maryland
    • Just follow the C&O canal towpath from Georgetown until you see a sign for the Olmstead Walk after about 14 miles. Lock your bike and walk out into the falls. Ride back via MacArthur Boulevard and stop at Glen Echo Park. Did someone say “yurts”?
  3. Check out the lotus blossoms
    • Ride the Anacostia River Trail to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in mid July. The water lilies and lotus blossoms are to die for.
  4. Take me out to the ballgame
    • The bestest way ever to attend a baseball game at Nationals Park (home of the WORLD CHAMPIONS!!) is to ride a bike and park it at the free bike valet on First Street SE.  (It’s in the stadium complex with a big sign. Can’t miss it.) Don’t forget to tip the attendant when you leave.
  5. Ride into the canyon
    • Rock Creek Park is a canyon right in the middle of DC. On weekends and holidays much of the northern part of the park is closed to motor vehicles. And if animals are your thing, you can stop at the National Zoo.
  6. Did someone say cherry blossoms?
    • There is simply no better way to see the cherry blossoms than by bike. If you can get to the Tidal Basin at sunrise, walk your bike around the perimeter of the basin. Be careful not to go snow blind. Then ride to Hains Point. The road is bordered by cherry trees all the way down and back.
    • Ride up the Capital Crescent Trail to the Kenmore neighborhood of Bethesda. Wow.
  7. Did someone say work?
    • Make sure to sign up for Bike to Work Day, the third Friday in May. It’s free. Go to a pitstop, meet people, and pick up some swag and the all-important (it’s still not pink) t-shirt. After work there are happy hours, too. It’s a very cool celebration of bike commuting.
  8. See the entire city
    • Each September, the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) holds the 50 States Ride. It meanders 60 miles all over the city as riders follow a 10+ page cue sheet to ride on each avenue named for a state. You will meet people. You will get lost. You will probably get rained on. You will have fun. You will get one hell of a work out. (It’s hilly!) Oh, and there’s pizza and beer at the after party.
  9. Check out the monuments
      • The best time to see the monuments is at night. If the gods allow, do it on the night of a full moon in the summer. Keep an eye out for organized rides or just put one together yourself.
  10. Join WABA
    • WABA is our local advocacy organization. With your membership you get access to rides (like the 50 States), resources, and events. Members get discounts at local bike shops so the cost of membership pays for itself.

There are so many other things to do. There’s DC Bike Party, several centuries (and shorter) rides in the country (Backroads, Seagull, and Great Pumpkin are my favorites), and beaucoup opportunities on the C&O Canal (bike camping, sunflowers, White’s Ferry, Harper’s Ferry, and, yes, Pittsburgh!) and the W&OD (coffee, micro breweries, barbecue) to name a few.

 

Eyes and teeth and knee

So today was a scheduled day for medical appointments. My eye doctor appointment went without a hitch. Given that I’ve had seven eye surgeries this is welcome news indeed. The dentists appointment included one of the most meticulous and painful teeth cleanings I’ve ever had. Dang. The dental tech was new to the office. The end result was worth the pain. The dentists asked me with a smile on his face how it went. The same tech cleaned his teeth two weeks ago. He felt my pain.

The exam included a new set of x-rays. No issues. I brought up a problem with my upper rear teeth that has been bugging me for over a year. From time to time I get a throbbing pain – more discomfort really – and it feels like one or two of my teeth is coming loose. Of course, nothing hurt today. He double checked the x-ray and poked around. His conclusion is that I may have a sinus-related issue. Makes sense. I am allergic to most things smaller than a pea.

To reward myself I had a Gio (Italian) sammich from The Italian Store in Old Town. Then in fit of dietary stupidity I snarfed down three sugar cookies. The resultant insulin rush put me to sleep for an hour.

I awoke and went for a ride on The Mule. In spite of some pain in my left knee and inner thigh, I almost immediately hit 18 on the speedometer. Move over Claudio Chiappucci! After hitting 30 on a downhill I noticed that my odometer had recorded a mile traveled even though I was only a little over a half mile from home.

As someone who ride more like Claudio’s fat uncle, I suspected something was amiss.

I returned home and looked up the re-set procedures for my bicycle computer. Sure enough I had somehow reset miles to kilometers when I put the new battery in last month. By the time I got things squared away I was no longer feeling like riding. So I hung it up. I rationalized that my knee could use a day off.

As far as the stenosis symptoms go, I woke up with pain down my lower left leg. The pain lingered until mid-afternoon. In the evening, I felt totally fine. Could it be that sugar cookies have medicinal properties.

Off to experiment!

 

15K to the ballpark

I had nothing much to do today and no place to be but the weather was nice so the CrossCheck and I went for a spin along the rivers. A lovely tailwind made me feel like a bicycle god all the way to DC. For once I wasn’t taken in by my ego; I knew the return trip would be a slog.

I managed to ride past the District Wharf without hitting anybody. The cycletrack there is an example of good design intentions gone bad. It’s especially bad at night when intoxicated concert goers and bar patrons wander across the track to catch their Ubers as weed smoke wafts through the night breeze.

I found the new P, Q, and 2nd Street SW cycletracks that go around the perimeter of Fort McNair. They’re all a bit narrow but look promising. You can take P and 2nd  directly to Audi Field to see a soccer, rugby, or football game or onto Q to go to Nats Park. The last bit is a construction sewer, a staging area for the new South Capitol Street Bridge.

The bridge is the latest in several bridge renovations around here. It seems the 60s and 70s were the zenith of ugly infrastructure. It’s as if the designers were angry at ex-presidents so they built them monuments of unsurpassed hideousness. The old Woodrow Wilson Bridge was six lanes of eyesore. It has since been replaced with a new, mega-bridge. (As expected, it took only a decade before it became just as bad a traffic bottleneck as the old one.) The Teddy Roosevelt Bridge truly looks like an act of architectural revenge.

Speaking of renovations, I was a little disappointed that the ballpark was not festooned with WORLD CHAMPION signs. Maybe a WE BEAT THE CHEATERS!!!! sign would look nice somewhere too. If the Asterisks come to town, perhaps we can put up a big neon sign and aim it at their hotel.

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On the ride back, the wind didn’t really slow me all that much. About two miles from home. the CrossCheck passed 15,000 miles.

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I’ll put it away for a month or so. Time to get The Mule and Little Nellie back in the game.

I have managed to completely blow off my first attempt at the Errandonnee. I still have a few weeks to try again.