Hit or Miss Forecasting

Before going on a bike ride, experienced bike riders always check the weather report. When I woke up this morning the reports called for heavy rain all day. Then, just a little before I left on my ride I saw this report from the @capitalweathergang on Twitter:

DC area forecast update, 10a: Radar shows very little rain in the region and the forecast for today has improved. We no longer expect widespread heavy downpours. Just hit or miss showers. Some could be heavy later on but dry more often than not.

I left the house into the slightest of sprinkles. No problem. Within 2 miles of home the rain started falling more heavily. No problem. A raindrop managed to make it into my right eye. Sting. Can’t see. Problem.

The rain intensified. Now I am riding in a downpour with raindrops all over my glasses and one eye pretty much out of commission. Just before descending a half mile hill on Fort Hunt Road, I pulled over to get the sting out of my eye. I realized that the best way to keep this problem from recurring was to lower my forehead to keep my eyes under my helmet’s visor. It worked but I had to keep my speed down below 10 miles per hour. At this speed I look over the top of my glasses and see about thirty yards ahead, enough to avoid crashing into the construction worker’s pick up truck parked on the shoulder in the middle of the hill.

This was the hardest rain I’ve ridden in since Iowa on my 2018 bike tour across the country. I was riding downhill at over 30 miles per hour. My old cantilever brakes were utterly useless. It was terrifying. Last year I replaced them with mini-V brakes at the suggestion of a mechanic at my local bike store. As it happens, I did some maintenance on them before yesterday’s ride so they were ready for today’s challenge.

Speaking of local bike stores, mine caught fire last year and has been closed ever since. I turned off Fort Hunt Road to check out progress on its re-construction. I am happy to report that there is now a roof on the place and some framing for walls inside. Yay, progress.

I’d have taken a picture but the rain was coming down in sheets. Ugh.

I continued northward along Fort Hunt Road and took a trail over to South Washington Street in Alexandria. At South Washington Street I pressed the beg button to cross the street. I rested over my handlebars while waiting for the light to change. My back felt like I was in the shower at home. The rain was just pelting down even harder.

After a short descent I stopped underneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I was a tad moist.

Here’s a shot of the playing fields to my immediate right in Jones Point Park. The Potomac River is just beyond those trees.

I continued into Old Town Alexandria down Union Street. At King Street things look a tad damp.

Flooding here is pretty common. What’s not clear from the picture is how fast the water is running toward me on the left side of the road. No sooner had I taken this picture than the rain intensified again.

I escaped uphill via an alley and re-connected with the Mount Vernon Trail on the north side of Old Town. I continued on the trail to the Four Mile Run Trail near National Airport. I turned off at Four Mile Run and made my way to the chicane that connects to the Potomac Yards Trail. The adjacent staircase was a waterfall.

I followed this trail back south. When I came to the trail head at Braddock Road I could see water gushing off the adjacent playing fields rail. The water cut right across the trail and down the curb cut into Braddock Road. (In the photo below, this is at the yellow sign on the right beyond the bridge.) I rode into this water and quickly realized that it was over a foot deep. Dang. Not wanting to pedal into a submerged obstruction I dismounted and started to walk up Braddock. The water was running fast and within two steps it was up to the top of my knees. (If the components on The Mule could talk they’d be pretty pissed off at me right about now.) After about 50 yards I reached dry-ish ground. The rain had abated. I stopped to take a picture of some pedestrians trying to get down the street I had just walked up.

Thankfully, the rain lightened. I headed back home. I swung by River Farm, the home of the National Horticultural Society. I turned in to ride the half mile loop and was rewarded with a close encounter with three turkeys. I decided to call them the Capital Weather Gang. They were spreading their wings to warn me off so I kept my distance.

A mile from home I could see a large dark cloud forming over my neighborhood. I called it a day after 28 miles. Apparently the cloud moved away. It hasn’t rained since I put my bike away.

For what it’s worth the area I was riding in had two to three inches of rain. Hyattsville, Maryland about 25 miles to the north had six inches!

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

On Sunday night I stayed up late watching a movie with my wife and daughter. The following morning I awoke after about six hours of sleep. Several cups of coffee later I was driving to Solomon’s Island in Maryland to take on oppressive humidity and rolling hills aboard my Cross Check.

The first ten miles of the ride were mostly along Route 2, a four-land highway and the only major north/south road in the area. I was still a bit groggy from my lack of sleep as I started my ride. The highway had wide paved shoulders which were occasionally guarded by rumble strips next to the right travel lane.

For the uninitiated, rumble strips are sequential cuts in the roadway that run in a line parallel to the travel lanes. These particular strips were about one foot wide. These cuts resembled a tractor track like you’d find on a dirt road. Their purpose is to alert drivers that they are leaving their lane and driving off the road. Properly designed they can be helpful to bicyclists because cars that hit the rumble strip make a distinctive, loud rumbling sound. If you’re riding and hear that sound it’s a really good time to take evasive action.

After a few miles I was getting into a nice pedaling rhythm, bombing along the shoulder at 15 miles per hour when I came to a long downhill. My speed increased quickly. I looked ahead and could see some vegetation obstructing nearly the entire width of the shoulder. This debris was probably caused by recent storms.

I rather absentmindedly started to drift to the left to go around the debris when I found my bike and me shaking violently. I had drifted right into the middle of the rumble strip. I’ve ridden some rumble strips that were no more disruptive than riding on an unpaved trail like the C&O Canal towpath. These strips, however, were composed of deep cuts in the roadway. They were so deep that the bouncing I was experiencing had slowed my speed into the mid 20s.

Even at this somewhat reduced speed, the shaking was making it impossible to control the bike. My butt kept coming off the saddle. The bike started to wobble. Instinctively I reacted by veering to the left. Freed of the rumble strip, my bike accelerated straight across the right travel lane.

I peeked at my mirror and saw nothing coming in my lane but, far behind, a vehicle was indeed approaching from the passing lane. Just as I was about to cross the dashed stripe into that lane I managed to get control of the bike and steered hard to the right, across the rumble strip, and onto the shoulder, well beyond the pile of debris.

This was the closest I’ve come to a high speed crash on a bike in years. It scared the crap out of me. I am very lucky that both travel lanes were empty when the rumble strip ejected my bike and me.

It took my several miles to calm down. In about 30 minutes the route took me across the highway onto back roads. Although these roads were quite hilly, unlike the highway, they were shaded. Temperatures had climbed into the low nineties. The high humidity made it feel like over 100 degrees.

There’s nothing quite like grinding up a series of steep hills in sweltering heat and humidity to take your mind off a homicidal rumble strips.

Evening the score

A few weeks ago I drove to Easton, Maryland on the Eastern Shore to do a clockwise ride from Easton to Oxford to Saint Michaels to Easton, using a ferry to get from Oxford to Saint Michaels across the Tred Avon River. As luck would have it the ferry was not operating so I had to back track and take a land route.

The weather forecast for yesterday was promising so I decided to give it a second shot. This time I checked online to make sure the ferry was running. Not wanting to do things exactly the same I decided to ride the loop counterclockwise. This resulted in me riding all kinds of extra miles trying to get out of Easton.

Once on route the way to Saint Michaels was pretty straightforward. Highway 33 is a two-lane, 50-mph affair. The road lacks shade which turned out to be a bit of a problem as the day wore on. The road has huge shoulders with very little debris and the cars kept close to the speed limit.

After checking out St. Michaels, a very cool town with many old residences along narrow lanes, I decided to head further along US 33 to Tilghman Island. After passing a few golf courses there wasn’t much to see. Farms and estates lined the highway. Each had a long straight, tree lined driveway to a posh house. One exception to this style of homestead was a geodesic dome house next to the road.

Geodesic home sweet home

The only hill of any sort was the ten-foot rise on a drawbridge to get to the island itself. Not exactly Alpe D’Huez.

Waiting for the drawbridge. The woman in front of me was very fast.

Once on the island I kept riding until I reached a gate blocking the road near a U. S. Navy installation. The trip from St. Michaels turned out to be 16 miles. I took a few minutes to check out the Chesapeake Bay and have a snack before heading back the way I came.

The Chesapeake Bay south of Kent Island

After passing back through St Michaels, I turned toward the Bellevue-Oxford Ferry. The ride to the ferry was along a sleepy, windy, mercifully shaded country road. When I arrived at the ferry pier I saw no cars in line, indicating that I had just missed the eastbound ferry. No worries, with no cars in line, bicyclists and pedestrians are supposed to pull a rope to activate a simple signal to tell the ferry that you’re waiting. The signal is a hinged board painted yellow on one side. It opens when you pull the rope. (How they see this signal in fog is beyond me.) As soon as I pulled the rope, a car pulled up. It’s a bit like lighting a cigarette to bring a bus to your stop on a cold winter day.

Call signal deployed

The ride across the river was pleasant. The breeze off the water felt great. It grew stronger as we went. I looked over my shoulder back west toward the bay and saw why. As late afternoon approached a summer storm was building over the bay. No time to dawdle.

Crossing the Tred Avon River

As soon as I disembarked in Oxford, I hopped on the CrossCheck and rode as fast as I could directly toward Easton. This mean I was lopping off some of the route through farmland east of town, but the notion of being out on the road for a fierce summer storm did not float my boat.

Normally, I cruise along at 11 to 12 miles per hour. My ride from Oxford to Easton was more in the 18 to 20 mph range. As luck would have it the road I was on went directly back to where I had parked my car. After getting the bike and my gear configured, I drove a mile to a gas station convenience store. I was inside about five minutes. When I came out the skies opened with cold, hard rain.

The whole ride ended up being 65 miles, considerably longer than my previous ride here. Now that I’ve evened the score with the ferryman, I want to come back and explore some of the side roads in this area.

Rock Hall Ramble

The Washington Area Bicycling Atlas included a ride on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called the Rock Hall Ramble. I lost the book but used the Google to find a cue sheet to the ride online. And off I went.

The ride through Kent County begins in Chestertown, Maryland. Founded in the early 18th century, Chestertown is a quaint place with just over 5,000 residents on the Chester River. The town is filled with lovely eateries and old buildings, as well as Washington College, a small liberal arts college founded in the late 1700s.

The ride makes its way southwest on quiet country roads to the town of Rock Hall on the Chesapeake Bay. Here you can dine like a proper Maryland savage by ripping crabs limb from limb. Ick.

Heading south from Rock Hall, the route enters the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge. I saw a deer and a rather humongous vulture, as well as bunches of noisy ospreys. The road dead ended at a rather drab field so I turned around and checked out a historical marker. It was a memorial to the dead son of a colonial landowner. The son it seems died at sea captaining a ship during the Revolutionary War.

On the way back to Rock Hall I stopped at Bogles Wharf for another view of the Chester River.

Once through Rock Hall the route became rather disappointing. The road was flat but the scenery did not inspire. Basically, this is a highway to the town of Fairlee.

Then it’s back to Chestertown. The town closed High Street, the main drag, for a farmers market in the morning. It was re-opened when I arrived after my ride. As I was leaving I noticed it was closed again. Moving traffic barriers is a full time job here.

All in all the ride was not half bad. Low traffic. No hills worth mentioning. Decent views of the Chester River and the bay. A respectable place to pedal 52 miles.

A fine ship in Chestertown
Soy left. Corn right. Clouds up above. Works for me.
The dock of the bay in Rock Hall
Lost at Sea
Mural in Rock Hall

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.