I like my cigar…

There’s the old story about Groucho Marx. I heard it as the reason his TV show was taken off the air. The details vary in the telling. While interviewing a man/woman/couple that have been married for 10 (or more) years, they related that they have 12 (or more) children. Hearing this Groucho says to the husband, “I like my cigar but I take it out once in a while.”

It never happened. But it’s a good story.

Well, I’ve ridden my bike for 22 days in a row. I woke up today and decided that I like my cigar, but it’s time to take it out.

Instead of riding I mowed the lawn in suffocating heat and humidity. Then I did about an hour of light yard work. I wore a t-shirt, sun sleeves, and swim trunks in anticipation of a sweat fest. When I was done, I was soaking wet. My sun sleeves were so wet they slid down to my forearms.

After a snack and a rewarding nap, I am ready for another string of bike rides. I am in striking distance if getting on a pace to ride 10,000 miles this year, but I need to bang out a few longer rides. Lately it has been so hot and humid that I haven’t dared to try to ride over 50 miles.

I found a bunch of rides online in Kent County Maryland. The shortest is called the Rock Hall Ramble. It’s about 50 miles but can be easily expanded to 70 miles by riding a spur into the Chesapeake Bay. Two other rides are over 80 miles. All three start and end at Washington College in Chestertown. I’ll probably do the ramble and save the other two rides for another day. All of these rides are ideal for a recumbent but cross winds on the Bay Bridge make me weary of hanging Big Nellie off the back of my car. Getting blown into the Chesapeake can ruin your whole day.

Time to fill some water bottles and make some snacks!

Let’s Make a Deal

One of the limiting factors in my bike riding during the pandemic has been the availability of restrooms. As a male I can get by for number 1 but number 2 is fraught with peril. Today I discovered that Maryland gas stations with convenience stores have opened their restrooms. Ahhh.

Today I drove nearly three hours to Princess Anne, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. It’s a lovely little town with many old brick buildings and many more rather run down frame houses. At one end of town is an old home with a boxwood garden in front. The boxwoods haven’t been trimmed in a while but it’s still a lovely sight. I am biased because the perimeter of my backyard when I was a kid was a boxwood hedge. We had seven kids and a dog. We gave those boxwoods a beating and they held their own.

The ride I did was from Princess Anne to Deal Island on the Chesapeake Bay. It was a straight shot along highway 363. The road has rumble strips about three feet from the edge of the pavement for the first seven miles. I managed to avoid hitting them but they definitely detracted from the riding experience.

After some farms and woods, I rode through salt marsh with plenty of bird life. Red wing black birds and ospreys protested loudly as I passed them. Egrets and herons flew silently way. Turtles seem to be losing the battle with big metal things. I saw one living turtle on the road and three who had been gruesomely crushed by passing cars.

Once through the Deal Island Wildlife Management Area, the road winds through the towns of Dames Quarter and Chance before crossing over to the island and it’s historic district. A mile later the road ends at Wenona. In Winona there are stacks of crab pots and boats to charter for fishing trips on the bay. These towns look like working and middle class towns; there is little sign of the kind of moneyed living you see farther north on the Delmarva Penninsula.

Wenona was nearly deserted and rather underwhelming. I rode half way back to Princess Anne before turning off the highway to take some backroads through farmland. The land here is so flat and the weather so agreeable that the 39-miles I rode was effortless.

Here are some pix.

The harbor at Wenona
Trolling and chumming. I think I’ll pass.
The water table is so high that the graves are not buried.
The highway through the salt marsh.
More salt marsh
Poultry is big on the Eastern Shore.
Back roads through some woods
Spacious skies and amber waves of grain.

Round and Round in the Park

Today we’ve returned to typical DC summer weather. Hot and humid.

I checked the website for Prince William Forest Park, a national park that is oddly situated right next to I-95 about 30 miles south of my house. The website said the park was open so I put the CrossCheck on the back of my car and headed south.

Upon arrival I could see a barricade across the access road into the park. Hmmm. The website said the park was open. There were no signs restricting parking on the highway so I parked my car on the shoulder. I rode around the barricade and was soon surrounded by green.

My plan was to ride the park’s scenic drive which I recalled as being a 17- mile loop. As it turned out it was more like seven miles. No worries, Instead of two or three laps I would do four or more.

You ride uphill then down to get to the scenic drive. Riding in a counterclockwise direction, I started climbing as I entered the circuit. At one point the road has a cycletrack on it. (See the picture above.)

Since the park entry was blocked off, the roads were car free but for a couple of Park Service trucks going about their business. All the trees acted as a sound barrier; I couldn’t hear I-95 which was less than a mile away. No cars. Birds singing. Smooth pavement.

Bliss.

I saw about 15 people in total. Two on recumbent trikes, two on road bikes, and the rest on foot.

The loop road goes uphill for about a mile then seems to plateau for five miles or so. Then it descends and the road curves this way and that. I hit 40 miles per hour, an especially sweet experience without big metal things to worry about.

After the big descent the inevitable climb begins in three stages. The first two stages come at the end of the loop. These were hard and had me huffing and puffing. After the second stage comes another brief descent to the end of the loop. The third uphill stage is the start of the next time around the loop.

I did four loops. By this point I was running low on water and decided to ride out of the park. As I cleared the park, I emerged from the shade. My car was sitting in an inferno. I’m sure glad I picked a shady place to ride today.

Heroes, Piedmont, and Walking Naked

For 13 days in a row I rode my bike. Sometimes long, sometimes short. Sometimes level, sometimes hilly. Sometimes flat, sometimes pumped up.

Yesterday I pulled another cue sheet from a ride in the Virginia Piedmont, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d done this ride and portions of it before. I know it is hilly but it is also scenic so why not.

The area I rode in is just west and south of the ride I did a few days ago in Hunt country. In fact, there’s a three or four mile overlap. I started in the town of Marshall and rode south on curvy, hilly country roads to Waterloo. Then I turned on to Leeds Manor Road and headed north through Orlean, Hume, and over Naked Mountain.

I rode past Sky Meadows State Park and east on US 50 (can’t get away from the damned thing) to Upperville. The last 10 miles went through Rectortown (part of the Hunt ride) back to Marshall. 55 miles in all.

The ride started with a bike equipment tragedy. My Zefal XP frame pump slipped off the hood of my car in the parking lot in Marshall. After hitting the pavement it would no longer contract enough to fit to the frame of my bike. I think the tensioning spring must have broken. I’ve had this pump for over 20 years. It died a hero.

While I am on the subject of equipment, I want to mention the bicycle computer I recently bought for The Mule. It’s a Cateye Padrone. It meets my two primary requirements for a bike computer. First, it displays 6 digits, allowing me to keep up to 99,999.9 miles on it. (The Mule is currently over 57,000 miles.) Second, it allows me to enter my mileage in from my old odometer.

This would be great if the damned thing was the slightest bit accurate. I have looked down at my computer while rolling and seen 0 mph displayed. I’ve also seen it tick of miles while I am at a stop light. Finally, the Maximum speed function usually displays something above 60 mph. All that said, it’s distance function is accurate withing about 3 percent. It recorded yesterday’s distance at 53.6 when the cue sheet says 55.2. So I upped the diameter of the bike wheel in the computer buy three percent to compensate.

The best part about the ride was the fact that the countryside is totally verdant. Through the winter months I long for green and now I have it. Ahhh.

The low light of the ride was Naked Mountain. I did this beast once on Big Nellie. How I made it to the top I’ll never know. It’s steep and bumpy and lung busting. The last time I did it I had to stop a few times. Yesterday I stopped at the base of the mountain to have a snack and some water. Then I started the long grind. I made it about half way before my lungs were tapped out. After a short rest I started again. In a few hundred yards my lungs were gone. So were my calf muscles.

I walked the rest of the mountain. Even that hurt my legs. Other than last summer’s sufferfest, it’s the first time I’ve walked my bike up a hill in 30 years.

Thankfully, for every climb there is a descent. The Mule abides.

I didn’t take many pictures yesterday bit these will give you an idea of the landscape.

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance
The Mile stops to take in the view near Hume
Near Rectortown at the end of the ride.

I’ve done 462 miles in the last 13 days. There’s one thing I can’t understand: on a bike tour, carrying 40 pounds of gear, I do 462 miles in a week and I’m not tired. Must be the gas station food.

After five miles doing errands, I have put my bikes away and am taking the rest of today off.

Zzzzz.

Cherry blossoms and social distancing

Since it’s cherry blossom time and today is peak bloom, I decided to ride to DC to see the show. I did my best to stay as far from people as possible. If someone on the trail stopped, I stopped ten feet behind them. If I passed someone (or someone passed me), I held my breath until I was beyond them. (I even adjusted this for wind speed and direction.)

When I got to National Airport I was amazed at how empty the economy parking lot was. There were fewer cars than yesterday.

Out of frame to the right was yet more empty parking spots.

Rather than take the 14th Street Bridge directly to the Tidal Basin and the crowds, I decided to ride another mile to the Memorial Bridge and skip the Tidal Basin entirely. I did a big loop, thanks in part to very like vehicular traffic, and ended up in East Potomac Park where the main road, Ohio Drive is lined with cherry trees.

I rode to Hains Point along Ohio Drive. The road had very light traffic.

There’s a golf course to the right of this picture. I spotted a ball in the grass and passed it by. After a minute of thought, I decided to ride to Hains Point a second time and retrieve the ball. I know it’s been there for a few days and its been rained on so the odds of it carrying the virus were small. Still, I touched it like it might explode and placed it in the side pocket of my saddle bag. I rinsed my fingertips off with my water bottle. (And washed my hands with degreaser and with soap and water when I got home. Paranoia strikes deep.)

During the second trip to the point, rain began falling. Temperatures and the humidity felt more like mid May than mid March so the rain felt good. An added benefit was that it cleared out most of the tourists near the Tidal Basin. This allowed me to take the 14th Street Bridge back to Virginia.

I must say that people seem to be doing a great job of social distancing. I only saw one cluster of people with more than three or four people in it.

Finally, I learned just before leaving for my ride that one of my nieces and her boyfriend are sick. They live locally and are in their twenties. He interacted with someone who tested positive when he was at a party out of town. So presumably they are both infected with the coronavirus.

I

Greetings from Elbownia

Here at the Rootchopper Institute we’re social distancing our butts off. Of course, my preferred SD method is to ride my bike alone. I’ve been grinding away at it for nine days in a row. Rather than getting worn out, I’ve been getting stronger. This is exactly what happens on a bike tour. It makes no sense either on tour or at home but it is what it is.

Yesterday’s ride took me over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, down the corkscrew ramp on the Maryland side, and up the long hill past the casino complex to Oxon Hill Road. From there I made my way into DC via the streets of Anacostia. I rode past the derelict buildings of Saint Elizabeths (no apostrophe) Hospital and down MLK Jr. Boulevard. Eventually, I made it to the Anacostia River and took the Anacostia River Trail to Benning Road. There I crossed over to the west side of the river, rode south between the river and the rotting hulk of RFK Stadium all the way to the Navy Yard. Soon I was passing Nationals Park, Audi Field (soccer), and the Wharf eventually making it down to Hains Point to check out the not-ready-for-prime-time cherry blossoms. (I did managed to shag three golf balls from the rusty spring hackers on East Potomac Yard course.) Then it was up the Potomac River past the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, across the Memorial Bridge to the Mount Vernon Trail and back home. A nice 43-mile spin in 70-degree temperatures.

Today’s ride was a recovery ride. I made it six miles, nearly to Old Town Alexandria, before I realized that I had forgotten my water bottles. I used the Wilkes Street tunnel to turn back home. On the way I passed my local bike store. The plan had been for the store to re-open in March, but from the looks of things it’s going to be quite some time before that happens.

Within a mile or two of this bike shop there have been two other large fires in the last month. And sometime in the last few months a hotel was struck by lightning. Coincidence?

After fetching my water bottles I made my way down to Mount Vernon, home and burial place of George and Martha Washington. I can’t remember the last time I saw it closed, but such are the “circumstances” these days.

My ride home took me to Route 1. As I waited at the traffic light I took note of the remarkable fall in gasoline prices since the financial and commodity markets went haywire.

There were long lines at this station and the one next door. Of course, the handles on the pumps may be a fine place for the Covid-19 virus to hang out but you take your chances when you can save 40 cents a gallon.

The ride home was brisk. I don’t know what got into my legs lately but I was accelerating up small rises in the road and I didn’t have a tailwind.

After the ride, I spent 20 minutes scraping loose paint from an exterior wall on the house. During dinner, I had a slight and very brief twinge of nerve pain in my lower right back. Oddly, this is good news. I am scheduled to have a new kind of injection in my lower back on Monday, but I haven’t had the slightest bit of pain in six days. Tomorrow I go on a six-mile hike. If that doesn’t bring about some serious pain in my back or my left leg, I am declaring myself cured and cancelling the injection.

Now if only I could do the same for the coronavirus. I guess I’ll just have to keep bumping elbows for a while longer.

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.

Aftermath

For the last 31 years, I have lived within a mile of US Route 1 in Fairfax County, Virginia. Hereabouts Route 1 is known as Richmond Highway because, prior to the building of Interstate 95, it was the main route between the north and the Virginia state capital.

It has been the armpit of the county for most of the time I’ve lived here, lined with predatory lenders, run down motels from the 1940s (or earlier), trailer parks, a staggering number of truly bad restaurants (including the legendary Dixie Pig barbecue joint), and some rowdy clubs including the long-gone Hillbilly Heaven owned by Dan Ackroid’s in-laws.

For many decades, the county stupidly used the Richmond Highway corridor as a money pit for haphazard development. It became a crime-ridden traffic sewer, a road to avoid. People who live along the highway are disproportionately poor people of color. They rely on buses and shoe leather to get around and a disturbing number of them have paid with their lives trying to cross the six to eight lanes of vehicular mayhem.

In recent years, the county finally realized that this mess could be fixed with some long range planning including dense development and a bus rapid transit line that may one day, long after I am pushing up daisies, morph into a Metro rail line.

A big part of the redevelopment is to turn sections of the highway into mini-cities with mid rise apartments, street level shops, and such. The intersection of US 1 and Kings Highway was one such mini-city. Last week, an apartment and retail building that was under construction there caught fire. The five-alarm blaze burned for hours. It sent up a smoke plume that rivaled that of the Pentagon on 9/11. (I know because I rode under the 9/11 smoke plume on my way home.) The plume showed up on weather radar and extended well into southern Maryland.

The intersection is on the far side of Beacon Hill, the highest point between Richmond and DC. I decided to test my recovery by riding to it.

The ride up the hill proved to me that yesterday’s two-mile walk didn’t affect my recovery adversely. My lungs,on the other hand, could use some work. It’s one tough haul up that beast.

Below are a few pictures of the devastation. The construction site spanned a residential street. Along one side it was attached to a huge concrete parking garage. Note that in Virginia tall residential and mixed use buildings can be stick built above the ground floor. As you can see there is nothing left of the building above its first floor. On the other side of the street, the building is simply gone. Townhouses that were already completed seemed to have survived but they were closed, probably from smoke and heat damage inside. An new apartment complex (not shown) that ran the length of the project also seemed not to have burned but many of its units were boarded up as well. A few single family homes of recent vintage had significant heat damage to their vinyl siding.

How depressing.

I rode on afterward hoping to give my back a bit of a reprieve from the climb. I meandered north into the Eisenhower Valley, Old Town, and Del Ray neighborhoods of Alexandria city. Then I toured the sound wall along scenic I-395 to the Pentagon and past the 9/11 crash site. There’s a rather interesting memorial at the site but it’s hard to see because the Pentagon is building some sort of secure freight screening facility and there are fences and other obstructions between the highway and the memorial.

My ride took me to the Lincoln Memorial and down the National Mall. Big mistake. The joint was packed with Presidents Day weekend tourists. At a traffic light I chatted with two tourists from Boulder, Colorado. They were on rental e-scooters. They said I was brave to be riding in this traffic. (They’d really freak out during a weekday!)

I made a brief tour of The Wharf where there were hundreds of people milling about. Then I headed back across the river and down the Mount Vernon Trail to home.

The entire trip was 33 miles. Virtually pain free but for the lung sucking I did climbing Beacon Hill.

 

The Mule’s Still Got It. My Knee Not So Much.

After two days of beautiful weather, The Mule insisted on going for a long ride. The Mule was jealous because I went hiking with friends yesterday. The Mule gets like that sometimes. The Mule would have killed me in my sleep if it had seen this view from the White Rocks overlook on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland.

Image may contain: sky, mountain, plant, outdoor and nature

And so I found myself heading northwest along the Potomac River. For 12 miles I rode into a headwind on the Mount Vernon Trail to DC. I crossed the river on the 14th Street Bridge and headed to Georgetown. Next, I took the Capital Crescent Trail along the north side of the river. I had a choice of routes. Either follow the C&O Canal towpath or switch to the somewhat hilly roads. I chose pavement since the towpath was a mess the last time I rode it.

After 30 miles I reached Potomac Village where gas costs more than top shelf single malt scotch.

I turned left onto River Road and partook of the massive rolling hills, views of stupefying mansions, the tony Bretton Woods Country Club, a Buddhist temple, a one-room schoolhouse, and fields of corn. After over 20 miles I had no choice but to climb Mt. Nebo Road. It goes up steeply, three times. Maybe four. However many times, the last one hurt.

I had a headwind leaving DC but now I could tell the wind direction had changed. I was riding effortlessly, except for the steepest hills. As every cyclist knows this either means you put performance enhancing drugs on your Wheaties or you have a tailwind. Since cinnamon isn’t a PDA, I knew it was the latter.

A few miles later I picked up the towpath, expecting there to be only one mile to get to Whites Ferry, where a privately run cable ferry shuttles travelers across the Potomac River. Somehow the one mile was actually four. Yeah, well. At least the towpath was in excellent condition. I spun along merrily and spooked a couple of deer who were hanging around looking for trouble. They put out their cigs and hightailed it into the woods.

I only had to wait five minutes for the ferry. There were a handful of cars on it coming and going so I was off the boat in under two minutes on the Virginia side of the river.

Did I mention that the weather was nice?

I rode to Leesburg and picked up some snackage. Then headed back home along 35 miles of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. Into a headwind. Sadly, the snackage contained only chocolate and other sugary delights, not anabolic steroids.

I estimated that the ride would be about 100 miles, but my calculation error on the outbound portion of today’s excursion meant it would be a bit more.

All in all, it was a very pleasant day on the bike, except for the last 20 miles which I did on fumes while trying unsuccessfully to ignore a screaming left knee and shoulder. The left knee has been getting worse by the month and will require some medical intervention this fall. The shoulder has a rotator cuff impingement. (Impingement is a fancy medical term for “messed up”.) I could have surgery on it as well.

Did I mention my sore left hip?

Ugh.

This ride, my longest of the year, was well worth the pain.

Away and home

60 miles a day for days on end while carrying 40 pounds of gear. This is a normal day on tour. At home this would be torture.

I’ve ridden carrying no more than 5 pounds for 17 days in a row. Mostly on flat terrain. I am beat up and tired. I cannot figure it out. Partly, the fatigue has to do with riding Little Nellie. The small wheels on my Bike Friday beat my body up. It’s fun to ride because it’s twitchy and nimble but after a couple of weeks my back starts going into spasm.

I had intended to exploit today’s perfect weather here in DC by going on a monster bike ride. Last night I had a couple of minor back spasms. Then I went to sleep only to wake up with stomach cramps. This turned out to somehow be connected to my ingestion of sour dough bread last evening. I know this  because I had sour dough toast for breakfast and my stomach went nuts.

After lazing about for the entire morning, I set out on The Mule to see if my body would respond favorably. It did. I was riding about 10 percent faster. I could barely feel the tree root bumps in the trail. The weather was perfect. The only negative thought I had was whatever will I do when The Mule dies? It fits me so perfectly.

When I got home, I sat on my deck with a glass a merlot. I did the crossword puzzle while listening to a baseball game (Nats won 7-2 over the Cubs) on the radio I  received for my birthday. Bliss.

Tomorrow is another perfect weather day. Mrs. Rootchopper and I are joining a couple of friends for a morning hike on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. I get to try out one of my birthday presents, a new Osprey backpack. (I tossed my WalMart fall-apart backpack. I hated that thing.) Afterward, I shall retire to the deck for more radio baseball. (Our TV is out of commission as a result of the renovation to the man cave.)

Next week I have nothing planned and some awesome weather. I think I shall take The Mule out to the country for a long stroll.