Nearly all the way to Joburg

Today I passed 8,000 miles by bicycle for the year. I looked up what that would do for me if I could ride somewhere 8,000 miles away. Johannesburg! Or I could “ride” to Copenhagen and back.

I took an awful lot of days off this year. Mostly because of bad weather (and no snow plowing on the Mount Vernon Trail). I also missed about two weeks while I was fooling around in Scandinavia and most of a week with a lung infection. I guess I made up for all that down time with a single 11-day bike tour. Long story short, I done impressed my own 61-year-old self.

Still, 8,000 miles is not my personal record. It looks like that was set in 2013 when I rode 8,087 miles.  I think I can break that without too much difficulty.

This is what happens when you don’t set any goals and just enjoy the riding for what it is.

Teach Your Children Well

Nelle Pearson of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association is collecting stories of parents, especially in Northern Virginia, who taught their kids how to ride a bike and didn’t have a good place to go.

I learned on a dead end street in Albany NY. There were no curbs, just lots of grass for crashing. On my first solo, I rode the length of the street and t-boned a passing car. For the record, my brother Jim, who is one year older, swears it was him who did the t-boning. Either way it was a hell of a start.

Jim and I used training wheels but my sister Margaret who is 2 1/2 years younger than I learned how to ride the hard way. While I was in school, she pushed my bike down the driveway, jumped on and rode it up the neighbor’s lawn across the street until she crashed. Then she’d get up and do it all over again. She would not be denied.

I watched a friend’s son learn to ride on a tennis court. He was determined to shed his training wheels while we were visiting. He got on, rode a few feet and crashed spectacularly. After a few sniffles, he got on again and Voila! he was free!!!

My son was another mighty determined learner. Our street is part of a loop of streets in the neighborhood connecting to a main road. The main road is a busy two-lane nightmare born of Fairfax County’s thoughtless housing policies of the 1960s – 1980s. My son stayed mostly on the sidewalk and, with supervision, in the street in front of our house. We would take him to the local school parking lot where he could ride with less precision. Finally, we took off the training wheels and ran after him as he wobbled down the middle of our street. After running ourselves ragged, we posted one parent here and the other there and, with a starting shove, he rode between us.

His first solo ride happened after he begged me to ride around the neighborhood on the sidewalk. Mom was inside so I made him promise to stop at every single driveway. He promised. Off he went. Soon he was out of view. Mom came out. “Where is he!!!!!?????” “No worries.” Minutes seemed like hours. Soon he re-appeared around the clubhouse turn. You never saw a prouder kid when he stopped in front of his mom. A few years later, on a single speed bike, he rode BikeDC (in the rain) and the Tour de Port in Baltimore with me.

My daughter wanted nothing to do with crashing. It was totally undignified and would mess up her pretty dress. At one point she was riding down the street and careened toward the curb. Down she went. She slid head first right into the storm drain. Her helmet lodged in the opening as she came to a stop. This may be why, these days her favorite bike is a Subaru.

Teaching a kid to ride a bike is one of the great joys of parenting. Here are two bits of advice.

First, my sister had the right idea. Training wheels are a waste of money and actually make learning to ride harder. Think about it. The number 1 hardest part about riding a bike is learning to balance. Training wheels defeat this. Also, with training wheels your kid has to master steering, balancing, braking and pedaling all at once. This is overload. So either get a balance bike (the kind with no pedals) or make one. Just take the pedals off your kid’s bike and push the seat way down so your kid can duck walk the bike. As he/she gets more confident raise the seat. Once they have mastered balancing, put the pedals on.  There are tons of how to videos too like this one.

My second words of advice are DO NOT TAKE YOUR KID TO THE LOCAL BIKE TRAIL!!!! I live near the Mount Vernon Trail. My kids did not ride on it until they had been riding without training wheels for two years. Bike trails are narrow. They have bridges and cross streets and trees and other obstacles. And other trails users fly by at scary speeds. Trust me, this is the last place a new bike rider wants to be. Instead, take your kid to a local school parking lot. Let him or her ride far away from any cars or other obstacles. Even better, if you live in or near Alexandria, take your kid to Jones Point Park. It’s right next to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at the south end of Old Town. Under the bridge there is all kinds of space to ride around in circles. There is also a water fountain and a bathroom. And playgrounds nearby for when Junior has maxed out on the biking thing.

Your kid is going to crash. It’s part of the process. Kids are made of rubber. Really. They heal incredibly fast too. Back in my day we learned how to ride without helmets or pads. We did not die. Your kid won’t either. Boo boos can be treated with hugs, mom spit, bandaids, and popcicles.

If you are the kid of parent that transmits DOOM whenever your kid falls down, pay somebody to teach your kid to ride. Sounds crazy? We paid a swimming instructor to teach our kids to swim. Miss Bonnie didn’t let them drown, not even once. Your kid will survive.

I guarantee you one thing: watching your kid ride a bike on his or her own for the very first time will stick in your head for the rest of your life. It is one of life’s most joyful moments. Even without t-boning a car.

 

Losing My Mind

My co-worker Kelly likes to run. She always wears headphones to listen to music and audio books. I told her I used to run 70 miles per week and never wore headphones.

Kelly: “If I ran that far without headphones I’d lose my mind.”

Me: “That’s the whole point!!”

The best parts of my runs back in the day and the best parts of my bike rides today happen when I am on autopilot. It’s just me, the pavement or trail, and my body. My mind goes to another place. The sure sign of a good ride is when I have that “How did I get here?” thought. (This sometimes causes me to miss a turn. Then I actually need an answer!)

There are times (lots of them) when my brain goes round and round on a subject as I am rolling along. Work. Relationships. Plans. That jerk in the car that nearly killed me. More often than not, the rhythm of the ride short circuits the internal chatter and I go back to my trance.

Any time I read a decription of simple breathing meditation I am reminded of my bike rides. Which is why a yoga-loving friend of mine calls my bike commutes “your meditation.”

If you get bored while you are riding, go with it. Let your thoughts take a mini vacation. Just until the next intersection. Then do it again. And again. Your thoughts have earned it. So have you.

You won’t get lost, but you might get found.

 

Good Riddence February

February was a month I’d just as soon forget. I spent most of it with my back all messed up. As March begins, my back is almost back to normal.

Somehow, bad back and all, I managed to ride 353.5 miles. I rode to work only six times. Five of these commutes, totaling 150 miles, were on The Mule. The other 6.5 came on Little Nellie on a commute to and from the car dealer. I rode an estimated 63 miles during 4 rides on Big Nellie on the trainer in the basement. The remaining mileage was from seven rides on The Mule.

So far this year, I’ve ridden to work only 16 times. My total mileage for the year is 809.5. I’m way off last year’s pace but that will all change assuming my back heals properly.

My yoga plan has hit a snag. I can’t for the life of me do one of the poses in the book. (I’m pretty sure the woman pictured in the book is not human.) So I skipped yesterday. Today I did the same set of poses I did last Wednesday.

March is here. It’s almost 40 degrees outside. That’s more than 10 degrees below normal but way better than yesterday’s freeze-a-thon. So I’m jumping on Little Nellie and going to the bank.

50 States Again

I need a bike ride. I am swirling in a medical vortex. My back is out. I can’t stand up straight. My face is peeling. My skin is red. The negative biopsy result on the growth behind me ear did not convince my dermatologist that I don’t actually have cancer. She did another, deeper biopsy. I’ll know in two weeks. I go to the hand surgeon tomorrow. At least today’s dentists visit was uneventful.

And of course, with my back out and all these doctor visits, I haven’t ridden my bike since Sunday.

There was one cycling development that happened recently. In 2007, I did the 50 States ride for the second time. I started the ride with my friend Paul. At the first rest stop in Anacostia Park, Paul struck up a conversation with a woman participant. Paul was eating gorp, a bag of assorted munchies that was melting in the brutal August heat. Florencia was eating almonds. I took their picture. Let’s just say it’s laughably unflattering.

Paul and Florencia in Anacostia Park

We rode together for a few miles. Paul stopped for lunch and succumbed to the seduction of air conditioning. Flor and I pedaled on. At a 7-11 on Hawaii Avenue we picked up Shane and Adam. We continued the ride as a quartet until Flor and Adam abandoned us in Rock Creek Park. Flor finished the ride. Adam was DNF. ( think he had to hurry home to eat some quiche.) Shane and I finished together. She went off to an after party where she met Jeff. I went home.

I did 50 States again in 2010. Again it was hot. So having done it three times (my first being on another blazing hot day in August 2006) I retired.

Until Flor contacted me. She had some friends who wanted to do the ride in 2011. Reluctantly I agreed. Flor brought her friends Veronica, Amy, and Richard. We added Jeff and Paul and we had us a posse. We made it to the halfway point when Flor and Amy abandoned us. We picked up a guy named Tito and headed off for the rest of the ride. Veronica and Richard who were new to the ride where having a blast. Their enthusiasm was contagious. It ended up being one of the best days I’ve ever had on a bike.

Richard, Flor, Jeff, Amy, Paul and Veronica

After riding it in 2012 and 2013, I decided to hang up my 50 States pedals. Maybe, I thought, I’d volunteer to work the sign in table.

Then she came back, Florencia recently returned to DC after a year and a half overseas. She and I attended a happy hour put on by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association last week. During a long conversation we discussed how the city had changed so much she hardly recognized it. I reminded her that we had ridden right past the bar during her last 50 States ride.

“No way.” Then, she said,

“We should do a reunion ride.”

“You abandoned me twice.”

“No, This time I will ride the whole thing with you. Promise.”

What can I say? I am weak. I agreed to ride with her.

Apparently, Facebook agreed. I did that “lookback” video thing the other day. The very first picture is the one of Paul and Flor from the 2007 ride. Later in the video is an over-my-shoulder shot of Veronica from the 2011 ride. She looked like she was having a blast. And she was.

Veronica Smiling Some More

I think the cycling gods have had their say. We ride again in 2014.

Jeff is on board.We may not be able to get Richard to fly in from Puerto Rico. I need to work on Paul. And Shane. And Amy.

And there’s a certain hill-climbing chemist who needs to do this ride.

Maybe WABA will give us a group rate.

As I said, I need a bike ride.

Easy Does It

Last week I did a good bit of mileage on my bike. On Sunday, I rode 60 miles at the Southern Maryland Century at Indian Head Maryland. Then I did my usual 150+ miles of bike commuting during the week. That’s over 210 miles in six days for those of you with dyscalculia.

The weather this weekend was spectacular, very reminiscent of early fall in New England and upstate New York where I spent most of the first half of my life. Time to knock out some long rides. Or not.

Next weekend I have two rides scheduled: the 50 States Ride and the Backroads Century. The 50 States Ride is a little over 60 miles entirely within the confines of Washington DC. It may be 60 something miles on the odometer but it feels much more like 100. It’s quite hilly and there are scores of stops and starts as riders wend their way through the city. The next morning I will awaken around 5 a.m. and drive to Berryville Virginia (after a short diversion into DC to pick up a passenger). There  I will ride a metric century, another 60 plus miles, over beautiful country roads. I did these rides back-to-back last year so I know what I am in for. Two-wheeled bliss.

As usual, I plan on riding all five days to work this week which should total about 150 miles before Saturday. So riding straight through next weekend would mean that I’d have way over 400 miles of cycling without a break. That’s a recipe for a really lousy experience next weekend at best and overuse injuries at worst.

Many years ago I was a distance runner. At one point I got up to 70 miles per week, even doing 84 miles in a week once.  With that much running it was inevitable that I was going to get hurt. And I did. My longest mileage for a year was 3,000 miles which comes out to fewer than 60 miles per week.  Once I realized that I was averaging 60 miles per week, it occurred to me that I should just lower my weekly mileage to 60 miles and take one day off per week. And two weeks off per year. I saw no drop off in my running performance at all.  And my legs were much happier. During this time, I also tried to find out how many days in a row I could run a minimum of five miles. I don’t recall how many days I did but it wasn’t many before my body told me to stop.

I’ve carried these running lessons over to my bike riding. If I notice that I’ve ridden ten days in a row, I take a day off, even if the weather is nice. So that’s what I did yesterday.   Even though the weather was perfect.

Today I did a 33 1/2 mile ride on flat terrain. I deliberately took it easy.  It was very tempting to go out and ride 60, 70, 80 or more miles.

That’s for next weekend.

Could It Really Be Spring?

The weather report called for temperatures in the low seventies. I prepared by taking yesterday off the bike, mowing the lawn and doing a number of chores. I waited until I saw a 5 and a 0 on the digital thermometer in our house.

Off I rode on Little Nellie and felt very strong. It was obvious that I had a tailwind. About three miles from home, I passed the Morningside nest and spotted a white head. Hopefully, we’ll have some eaglets soon (if we don’t have them already). A mile further on I looked left as I crossed the Dyke Marsh boardwalk.  The pair of geese I saw earlier in the week were still waddling about. It was a bit troubling that papa goose was on the far side of the Parkway. It would suck if he became roadkill.  (My wife and I once saw a black SUV mow down a mama duck and a few of her ducklings as they tried to cross the Parkway. The surviving ducklings were a sad sight, waddling around in a panic.)

The Mount Vernon Trail was very crowded, which is typical of a warm, sunny weekend day. The tailwind made passing easy. I cruised to the city with surprisingly little difficulty. At Gravelly Point, a plane came in for a landing. A man transfixed by the plane wandered directly in front of me looking up. “YO!” He came back to reality and hopped out of the way.

The tailwind became obvious when the trail curved along the river bank. Little Nellie was a happy camper.

I turned to ride up the ramp to the 14th Street Bridge. Now with the wind in my face, it was time to work a little. Bikes were coming down the ramp in a long line. There was a fence on the left and a highway ramp on the right. There were three bikes in front of me. They stopped. No warning. The two women in front were having a conversation. The guy in the back said nothing. I veered to the left (thankfully there was a little room) and stopped with my front wheel next to his rear wheel. For some reason I blurted out “What the fuck are you doing?” It was louder than intended, perhaps because my expectations of a smooth ride to DC had been dashed. The guy turns to me, objects to my remark and starts explaining the situation (as if it wasn’t self-evident) . While he’s jabbering, I look up and two cyclists are coming down the hill, passing the long line of bikes, straight at me. I turn to my new personal friend and yell, “Move your god damned bike NOW!”

I think this blows my chances at the Cherry Blossom Festival Mr.Congeniality award. And I am sure he thought I am a total asshole. He has a point. I don’t care. Safety comes first.

On the DC side of the bridge, chaos. I weaved through the buses and tourists. I could see that the trees along the Tidal Basin were nowhere near full bloom so I headed for East Potomac Park. Into the wind.

I saw a few nice trees but the whole experience left me frustrated. If I hadn’t lived here for decades I’d swear that this whole cherry blossom thing is a hoax.

A Lonely Bloomer on Hains Point

I rode upriver to the Lincoln Memorial, crossing Constitution Avenue through one epic traffic jam. I spotted a Park Service employee helping people cross the street. He just laughed. It was so bad that there’s nothing he could do.

I back tracked on the opposite side of the Mall and past the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue was not very crowded. Cherry Blossoms, even disappointing ones, trump the leader of the free world.

I don’t much like cycletracks but on this sunny day it seemed like the most civilized way to ride through town. All but one turning car yielded to me so I felt safe. At Meridian Hill Park, here were no drums to be heard and no acroyogis or hula hoopers to watch so I plodded up the hill and kept on keeping on. The cycletrack dies out at 16th Street so I took for a ways. At a four way stop, a car behind me went through the intersection out of turn. The car that had been slighted laid on his horn and followed the offender up 16th, passing me. He stayed on his horn for a block until he pulled up next to the offenders who were obviously lost. They exchanged words. The offenders turned onto a side street out of which came a DC police cruiser. The cop pulled over the SUV driver, apparently for making a public nuisance out of himself. I felt bad for him. He won’t win Mr. Congeniality either.

I turned off 16th and found 14th with a bike lane. It ended at a T on Aspen Street. A left turn and soon I was cruising down a series of S curves into Rock Creek Park. This road is part of the 50 States Ride so I have ridden it several times. It is the bestest.

At the bottom of the hill I turned right and headed for Chevy Chase (the neighborhood not the actor). I spent a few minutes on Rock Creek Trestle The creek is way down there.

Reversing course, I made for Bethesda Row and its fine array of eateries. After crossing a busy street the trail makes a hard left turn. The woman cyclist in front of me was wearing the full bike rider kit (matching lycra top and bottom). She clipped into her pedals and seemed to be going at a snail’s pace. As I was about to pass her, she waved me by with her left hand. In her hand was a lit cigarette. Carbon makes bikes go faster, or so they say.

I ate at Bethesda Bagels because it’s good and I am boring. I always eat there when I bike to Bethesda.

Instead of dealing with the Capital Crescent Trail crowds I headed out on the quiet side streets of Bethesda. A right hand turn put me on Bradley Boulevard, normally a busy road but not I had PEDs in my pedals. After passing through Avenel I picked up Falls Road. A left on MacArthur Boulevard had me descending through the woods of Great Falls Park, The windy road is flawed only slightly by the bumpy pavement, otherwise this one rivals the downhill into Rock Creek Park.

I was headed into the wind but the descent made me unaware. At the Old Anglers Inn, I jumped on the C & O Canal towpath for the ride back to DC. Now that I had slowed down, the headwind was annoying. Little Nellie’s short wheel base does not make for a comfortable ride on rough surfaces. I bounced along slaloming among the walkers and runners. I spotted a big great blue heron standing still on a log over the canal. Even with the bumps, the ride on the C & O Canal is a thing of beauty, Except for the gnats swarms. For about four miles I encountered clouds of flying black bugs They don’t bite but they get into everything, your mouth, eyes, hair, ears.  And your whole body gets covered in them. Ick.

After switching over to the paved Capital Crescent Trail, I looked at the Seussian Cormorants perched in the trees along the Potomac. They do this every year, feeding on the fish swimming up river to spawn.

Back in the city, I decided to avoid the cherry blossom scene and the Mount Vernon Trail, I took the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge to the MVT for about a mile then crossed over to the Pentagon. With a stifling headwind, I followed roads past the vast Pentagon parking lots and Long Bridge Park, through Crystal City and Potomac Yards. In Old Town Alexandria I followed Columbus Street, several blocks from the touristy madness. After waiting at a stop light, I started pedaling when it turned green. The car opposite me starting coming through the intersection too. A green taxi coming from the cross street blew through the light. I think the light must have been back lit for the driver. If I had had a tailwind instead of a headwind, I’d have been roadkill. The taxi missed us both.

South of Alexandria, the Mount Vernon Trail wasn’t crowded so I hopped on it and slogged into the wind.

At home, I took inventory: my hands hurt. my back hurt. my arms hurt. my knees hurt. My face and thighs burned.

Spring is here.

For some pix check out my Flickr page here.