Emilia and the Red Caboose

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3277
Just trees and hills and fresh air

 

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

 

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

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Emilia after pumpkin pie

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

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

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

“Ok, John, I’m ready.”

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

12!

11!

Only tell me the single digits.

How do you say nine in Spanish?

Nieve!

Ocho!

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

Are we at seven?

No. Cinco!

You’re kidding.

No.

Big smile.

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

And there it was after 67 hilly miles.

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Emilia, her steed, and the caboose

Tired but todo sonrisas.

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

And some don’t get rained out

There is an old saying in baseball: you win some, you lose some, and some get rained out.

This is a story about losing, getting rained out, and winning. Leave it to me to get things totally out of sequence.

About two years ago the Red Sox were scheduled to play an exhibition game versus the Nationals at Nationals Park to mark the end of Spring training. I managed to get one of four tickets that one of my co-worker’s bought.

Losing

As I typically do, I set out on by bike for the ballpark. It was raining. I got about five miles from home when, heading northbound, I was hit by a black SUV on the Mount Vernon Trail. (There goes the no hitter.) The SUV was exiting a condominium complex and failed to stop before making a right on red. To this day I am shocked that I managed to escape from this encounter with only some bruises.

Getting Rained Out

A short time after the crash, I was informed by the Twitter that the game was rained out.

Winning

Fast forward 22 months. I am riding southbound on the trail to the exact place where I was hit. There, blocking the entire trail, was a white SUV. I came to a stop and shouted at the driver. “Why are you here? Why are you blocking the trail?” The driver looked at me as if to say “So what.” Then, before I could ride around the front of the vehicle, the driver took off, taking a right turn on red.

I had seen this behavior dozens of times and I finally decided to ask the city of Alexandria to do something about it. I wrote them a short note requesting a change to a sign. Drivers leaving the condo complex at this intersection face a traffic light with a sign that says “No Turn on Red when Pedestrians Are Present.” I asked that the city to replace it with a sign that says “No Turn on Red.” I deliberately kept my request simple thinking it would avoid getting bogged down in analysis and budgetary considerations.

I had no idea that there was an Alexandria City Traffic and Parking Board. My note was referred to them and the issue was placed on the February meeting agenda. My friend Erin Meter provided a statement on behalf of the Friends of Mount Vernon Trail. Her statement, and that of Zack DesJardins, went into details about traffic signal timing, signal delays, best practices on signage and traffic lights and the like. (Judd Lumberjack came and offered moral support.) Erin and Zack did some serious homework on this.

Two representatives of the condo complex spoke. One had several pictures of the scene. (I was half expecting him to talk about the circle and arrows and the paragraph on the back of each one. But I digress.) Finally, I gave a brief statement. (The order was not for dramatic effect. It’s just that I arrived last.)

I explained how I was hit. And that I see the trail obstructed on a regular basis which is obviously dangerous.

The Board then voted unanimously to change the sign and to study the signal and signage issues.

I couldn’t believe it. I actually had to ask Erin if we won.

We won.

A tip of the cap

Many thanks to Christine Mayeur, Alexandria’s Complete Streets Coordinator, for encouraging me to show up and give a statement.

And to Erin, Zack, and Judd for thoughtful statements, support, and photography,

Zack, Me, and Erin (Photo by Judd Lumberjack)

P. S. Teddy Ballgame would not have approved. I put on a tie and nobody died or got married.

 

Connecting and Extending the Mount Vernon Trail

The Mount Vernon Trail, a facility of the National Park Service, is well known to cyclists, runners, and walkers in the DC area. It extends from Theodore Roosevelt Island in the north to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in the south. Beyond Mount Vernon, there are trails of a sort but they come and go for three miles along the two-lane Mount Vernon Memorial Highway to US 1 where new trails continue south down through Fort Belvoir. (The mega re-design of US 1 to the north of Fort Belvoir will include separated bike lanes. ) The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is planning to connect the existing trail segments along the MVMH to provide a continuous trail that connects Mount Vernon to US 1.

Last night I attended the first public meeting about this project. It was run by Chris Wells, the Fairfax County Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator with significant additional remarks by Dan Storck, the Mount Vernon District Supervisor.

Beyond its local significance the Mount Vernon Trail is part of other much longer trail systems, including the Adventure Cycling Association’s Atlantic Coast Route, the East Coast Greenway, and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

The project is an admirable one, but it has significant shortcomings.

The Mount Vernon Trail itself stops at the southern end of a parking lot. To continue south cyclists have two options. They can walk the sidewalk in front of the entrance to Mount Vernon or ride (illegally) on the George Washington Memorial Highway for a few hundred yards. Neither of these shortcomings is addressed in this project.

The GW Parkway ends at Mount Vernon. To continue south, travelers use the MVMH. At this point a new-ish side path exists for about 1/2 mile to a traffic light at Old Mount Vernon Road. After the light, there is an old, narrow asphalt path that is in lousy shape with tree roots and debris. After a few hundred yards that path ends and path users need to cross the MVMH to get to another similarly decrepit path along the MVMH. This path has the added feature of a series of abrupt ups and downs. This path segment ends after about 1/4 mile at Southwood Drive. Local residents report that these three parts of the trail are virtually impossible to ride on a bike and in such poor condition that even running is problematic. Unfortunately, improvements to or realignment of these side paths are not included in the project scope.

The first of the proposed new segments would begin on the opposite side of the MVMH from this last bit of path. It would continue only a few hundred yards to another existing side path that extends from Peartree Landing (a neighborhood street) to the entrance to Grist Mill Park, which contains soccer fields, a large playground, and the area’s free mulch collection. This existing segment is wider and newer than the others describe above. Nevertheless, the local residents I talked with said this segment also has problems with tree roots.

Beyond Grist Mill Park a new trail segment is planned that will cross the southern end of Old Mill Road until it reconnects with a little used, existing frontage road. After the frontage road, the new trail will begin again and cross Dogue Creek on a new steel and concrete bridge.

After Washington’s Grist Mill, the new trail segments will end. Those wishing to continue south on a trail will have to re-cross the MVMH to connect with a new existing trail that continues a couple of hundred yards to US 1.

The project plans include wayfaring signs, as well as improved crosswalks and bus stops.

The project team’s consultants were in attendance. Maps of the project were on easels for review. There were about 40 – 50 people in attendance. Considering the fact that this was a preliminary meeting, this was an impressive turnout. Attendees included people who live along the project corridor and others, like me, who use the corridor for cycling.

Concerns raised included:

  • The design of the Dogue Creek bridge. It will be steel and concrete which will hopefully lessen the crashes that are endemic to the Mount Vernon Trail’s wooden bridges.
  • Crossing the MVMH is dangerous now. Recently, a 15-year old runner was hit by two cars as she crossed the road. (She lived but is in for a long recovery.) Attendees asked for traffic signals of some sort and consideration of sight lines when positioning cross walks.
  • Local residents say that traffic has increased significantly since the military base re-alignment moved thousands of personnel to Fort Belvoir. The residents say that the 45 miles-per-hour speed limit is too high considering the highway traverses a residential area. This is clearly one of those places were Virginia DOT prioritizes moving commuters over residential users.
  • Local residents also decried the condition of the decrepit existing trail segments.
  • The crossing at Old Mill Road is a potential problem. Local residents cut through a neighborhood and a wooded perimeter area to access the park now to avoid this intersection.
  • Drainage is a problem now for one resident whose home abuts a new trail segment.
  • The trail right of way could be 20 to 30+ feet depending on the type of drainage used at the highway’s edge. One resident noted that his driveway is only 40 feet long.
  • Residents clearly would prefer to limit the trail to one side of the highway.
  • Trees will have to be removed to accommodate the new trail assuming it stays in its current alignment.

The next step is for the project team to do a detailed analysis of the corridor and produce a preliminary design for public comment. That process will take six to nine months.

As readers of this blog know, I do not much enjoy doing bike advocacy work, but I have to say that this meeting was actually fun. There was concern without anxiety on the parts of the attendees. I think they had plenty of time to have their say. Chris Wells and Dan Storck did a great job of listening and making thoughtful observations. Project team members and Dan Storck were taking notes. With projects like these the old saying “The devil’s in the details” holds.

As for me, I was encouraged to see that Chris has picked up where Adam Lind (currently cavorting in Santiago, Chile) left off as Bike/Ped coordinator. This was my first interaction with Dan Storck. My district supervisor is an avid cyclist. Obviously, he has to take into consideration all users and constituents but it is a great relief to know that he speaks my language.

As for me, I doubt I will use the new trail. I don’t use any of the existing trails segments. I am comfortable in the road, but I understand that others, most importantly the people in the adjacent neighborhoods, are not. I also doubt bicycle tourists, experienced recreational riders, and commuters will want to meander back and forth across the highway. However, the project clearly addresses many existing shortcomings for walkers and runners and less experienced cyclists.

Finally, I did get a chance to talk to Dan Storck about his annual Tour of Mount Vernon bike ride. When I first heard about it, I thought is was a dinky neighborhood ride. Wrong. It’s the real deal at 36 miles and he’s very excited that it’s catching on after only a couple of years. I didn’t ride it last year because I was already committed to WABA’s 4th Annual Cider Ride. Hopefully, this year WABA and Supervisor Storck can coordinate dates so I can do both.

 

 

 

 

Three Errands in One Day

Thannk god for the Errandonnee. I don’t have to think of ideas for blog posts for 12 days.

Today’s first errand, such as it is, was another ride to and from work. I wasoperating on 5 1/2 hours sleep this morning and switched my fuel to Eggos for a pre-launch sugar spike. The temperature was in the high 40s so I ditched the winter gear and went with shorts. SHORTS!!! I froze for the first five miles but it was so worth it.

Digression: I neglected to mention that on my ride home last night I heard my first spring peepers of the year at the southern edge of Old Town Alexandria.

Anyway. SPRING!!!

I stopped to look at a sign from the National Park Service. They run many parks in the DC area. Local cyclecross enthusiasts have been using an area alongside the Mount Vernon Trail for training. You know, having fun. Can’t have that, says the grumpy Park Service.

 

On the way home, I stopped by the bank to use the magic money machine. (I once heard a father tell his toddler that he was using the magic money machine. The poor kid was probably seriously disappointed when he found out the truth.)

A bit further along I stopped at the bike shop to have my shifter serviced. Taylor the Mechanic tried but the replacement part didn’t work so I had to order a new set of shifters.

Three errands in one day, lying in the depths of your Errandonnation. (A free pint to the reader who has a bloody clue what that line was about.)

Errand No. 6

Category: Work (2nd use of this category)

Miles: 29 1/2

Observation: Actually made by #bikedc’s Shawn: The Park Service is always saying it has no money, so where does it find the funds to buy signs prohibiting enjoyment of their parks?

Errand No. 725506598392_d8a41c323c_m

Category: Personal Business (Bank)

Miles: -1/4 (I short cut from my route through Jones Point Park)

Observation: ATMs would be more fun if they really were magic. Maybe they’d emit a cloud of smoke like a magic trick when they dispensed cash.

 

Errand No. 825330101180_e98ec2d8d4_m

Category: Store (Bike Shop) 2nd use of this category.

Miles:  3/4 (A diversion from the MVT to Belle View Shopping Center via the US 1 connector trail.)

Observation: It was in the 70s today so I was shocked when there was no line at the service desk at the bike shop. Also, you have to love a bike shop that will do minor service on your bike while you wait. Spokes Etc. is terrific for this.

 

 

Bike, Wash, and Drink, Oh My!!!

We were under a tornado watch. A long north/south line of intense storms, about 10 miles wide and a hundred miles long (both guesses), was tracking to the north. From the animation on the weather sites, it was clear that no matter what I did, short of staying at the office until 8 or 9, I was going to have to ride through this beast.

The good news was that it was warm out. Over 60 degrees. The first half of my commute was into a strong and gusting headwind but it was toasty. Then, at the 7 1/2 mile mark near the power plant in Alexandria flashes of lightning started. Not cloud to ground but bright enough to get my attention. Old Town passed without incident. Light rain, with big drops, started to fall. As I approached the Wilson Bridge I caught a glimpse of the sky to the west. NASTY. Dark. Reddish. Eek.

The wind now changed direction. It blew me up the ramp to Washington Street. Then I turned left to head down the trail. Oof! Gusts from my left pushed me toward the street to my right. I tucked and pedaled hard to maintain my forward momentum. More gusts. Stronger. More lightning. Then the rain began. Moderate but blowing every which way. The water was cold but the air was warm so my wool clad feet stayed comfortable.

More lightning. Thunder. Every time the trail took me behind brush or trees the force of the wind gusts diminished. As I cleared the trail at Northdown Road the skies opened. I opened my mouth and it was as if I was drinking from a glass. I couldn’t see ANYTHING. So I navigated on instinct having ridden this road hundreds of times. Standing water was several inches deep. A torrent came down the little hill from the stone bridge.

I crested the hill and crossed the bridge and damned it the rain didn’t intensify. This was INSANE! And sooooo much fun. I took the lane mostly because about four feet at the edge of the road had four inches of water rushing along it.

I barely made my turn on Shenandoah Drive. Brakes are not real useful in this sort of deluge. I tried to keep an eye out for debris in the road. It was hopeless. I had all I could do to stay ON the road.

I lucked out when a car pulled in front of me and activated the traffic light at Fort Hunt Road. I blasted across and kept riding. Cars were giving me plenty of room. A mile from home an intense blast of lightning, then, a second later, a bone shaking blast of thunder filled the sky.

Woot!

Pedal, pedal!!!!

I had to come to a stop to make the turn on Collingwood Road a quarter mile from home. I let five cars go by so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them running me over in the blinding rain.

After 15 miles, I pulled into the yard.

If I had driven, this commute would have sucked. On my bike it was a thrill.

We should have tornado watches more often.

Post Script: This is apparently what I rode through after it tracked east about 15 miles. Dang!

Triple Play for Punxatawney Phil

As every American knows, Punxatawney Phil is a groundhog who comes out of his hole on Groundhog Day (dang, isn’t that clever). If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, liberation! Lord only knows how this myth got started.

At least Phil isn’t as politically dubious as Indian summer.

So today was the first, honest to god springlike day of the year. It took about six hours of daylight to get going in earnest, but temperatures eventually rose into the high 60s.

I started the day warming up for Errandonnee 2016. This was once called the Utilitaire, a name I prefer only to annoy the Goddess of Errands.  Whatever it’s called, it’s all about doing errands by bike. Today, I took my neglected recumbent, Big Nellie, out for some chores. Our first stop was the dry cleaners. I could use a dry cleaner in our office building but I like the people who run the shop near my house. You have to support nice people. Even if their shop is on US 1 in Fairfax County. Not to put to fine a point on it, US 1 is an abomination. It sucks in every conceivable way. And it’s even worse if you are on a bike. If you don’t support nice people, you get not nice people. Nice people are more better.

Next stop was the clothes donation bin. This was on the opposite side of US 1 so I got to play with cars. None of them hit me.

I crossed back over US 1 and made for the local hardware store. The clothes donation bin was 100 yards from a Home Depot. The hardware store is run by nice people (one of the owners rides a bike up and down the Mount Vernon Trail in the mornings). They sell all sorts of useful stuff. Until you buy a house you probably don’t shop at hardware stores. For homeowners, hardware stores are like a toy store. They are filled with all sorts of interesting stuff. Ours sells 25 pound bags of shelled bird seed covered with cayenne pepper. It’s expensive but the squirrels don’t like it and the birds do. I bought a bag and dropped it in my old pannier. The ride home was a bit lopsided but Big Nellie was up to the task.

With the Errandonnee practice run complete, I turned my attention to my bete noire: Not the Bryan Ferry record, squeaky brakes. According to Google, “squeeky brakes” is
“freins grinçants” en Francais. Why didn’t I learn this in 4 1/2 years of studying French?

First I worked on Big Nellie’s back brakes. This involves putting this huge bike in a bike workstand, adjusting the brakes, taking the bike out of the stand, going for a test ride and repeating. All the while dropping F bombs, because you really need three hands and I only have two. (If we survive climate change, humans will sprout a retractable third hand from their appendixes. And I bet  you thought it was a useless vestigial organ.)

It took me only two tries and about 20 F bombs but I silenced the squeal.

Next I put The Mule in the stand and went at it. The brakes on Big Nellie are V-brakes. The brakes on The Mule are cantilevers. The adjustment is the same but you need an additional tool (a wrench) to work on cantilevers. This ups the f-bomb count substantially. Fortunately, The Mule isn’t as ungainly as Big Nellie so it’s easier to get into the stand. After about 15 minutes I had silenced the truly irritating screech from both front and rear brakes.

After a quick lunch, I hopped on Big Nellie for a reward ride. I rode over to the Mount Vernon Trail which was busy with families. Many of them had free range toddlers. If you want to identify suboptimal parents, just go to the busiest trail in the mid Atlantic on a warm, sunny day and look for the ones with free range toddlers. As a reformed suboptimal parent, I sympathize and ride especially carefully around these people. There are also the our-kid-got-a-bike-for-Christmas-let’s-go-get-them-killed parents. I know its a “bike path” but it’s got MAMILs and teenagers on it and your kid can’t ride in a straight line yet. DON’T BRING THEM TO A TRAIL!!! Sorry. Life’s not fair. (You can trust Scar on this.)

After a ride across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge sidepath which was filled with British sympathizers (they all seemed to walk on the left today), I rode down into Jones Point Park. Here I saw several optimal parents. They were teaching their kids to ride their bikes off the trail in the big paved area under the bridge. If you have a kid who’s learning to ride a bike TAKE THEM TO JONES POINT PARK. It even has nice bathrooms. And a rudder from a World War I ship.

I rode through Old Town to Four Mile Run, then came back through Del Ray. People were out and about. Cabin fever was being cured. Smiles abounded.

I took the Park Terrace hill on the way home. Riding hills on a recumbent is not big fun, but I needed a challenge. The grind put me in a trance and somehow I found myself riding over the crest of the hill.

So there you have it. Errands, Bike maintenance. Lazy ride.

A triple play on a sunny day.

Thanks Phil. See you in about three weeks.

 

IWBTWD – Catchy, no?

Today was International Winter Bike to Work Day. I think it’s really for some sort of demented  bragging rights. Also for stupidly long hashtagging. Actually, it’s International Northern Hemisphere Winter Bike to Work Day because what’s the point of bragging about riding to work in Perth when it’s 80 degrees outside.

Yesterday was a telework day. The only bike related thing I did all day was to attend a 24966240255_e9de876daa_mWABA happy hour. This was 2 miles from my office which would have been easy to ride to had I not been teleworking. I drove instead because there isn’t a whole lot happy about riding a bike 17 miles in the freezing cold, having a beer, and riding the bike 17 miles in the freezing colder. Bike to happy hour is best done in the summer when you can have a beer outdoors while Colin Powell poses for a picture nearby.
24349241193_d3430eb2c2_m

This morning the thermometer read 22. I was prepared to wear tights under my bike shorts under my rain pants. The lack of wind convinced me to downgrade the tights to wicking briefs (that is underpants made of non-cotton farbic). In a mile I knew I had nailed my winter biking attire. I was perfectly comfortable all the way to Friday Coffee Club. Along the way I stopped to admire the heavenly smile of daybreak at Dyke Marsh.

I was intent on getting to Coffee Club with time enough to enjoy myself. I rode as fast as my three layers of clothing with hiking boots and 25 pounds of pannier stuff would allow. I focused on my pedaling and breathing which pretty much put me in the trance mode for several miles.

Along the way my front wheel acted up. Every time I hit my front brake, the brake would bite the rim once during each wheel revolution. I couldn’t find a bump in the rim but this was not a good development.

I made it by 8:05 and could take my time conversing. Felkerino managed to inadvertently flip a saucer into the air where it knocked over my water glass sending ice water onto my head gear. It was a stunt that would have made Rube Goldberg proud. My buff – which covers my face in winter – was wet but I managed to get everything else out of harm’s way. Need less to say, the two mile, buffless ride to the office was eye opening.

During the day I managed to dry my buff (now doesn’t that sound interesting?) so I was all set to ride home. The ride home featured a headwind which was a bit annoying. My brake problem was not annoying because it had disappeared. Also not annoying was the fact that I rode more than halfway home without turning my headlight on.

Hurry spring.

 

 

 

 

The No Squish Bike Commute

It’s astonishing how much more comfortable bike commuting can be when your boots are not filled wit24309316603_3da4d74d9c_mh ice cold Potomac River water.

And so today’s bike commute into a cold headwind was rather nice. I stopped for a sunrise picture made less risey by the fact that I left late and the sun is coming up earlier.

The wooden bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail had a slight coating of ice, which is to be expected when it is near freezing. It turns out those road signs are right: bridges do freeze before roadways. Who knew?

I know of one person who knows. The worst of the ice was on the Trollheim, the boardwalk beneath the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge about 1/2 mile from my office. Legend has it that a troll lives beneath the boardwalk and, on cold or wet days, the troll reaches up and grabs bike commuters causing them to crash. I was making my way gingerly across the icy boards when I spotted a big smush mark in the ever so thin dusting of snow on top of the boards to my left. This is a sure sign that a bike went down.

The ride home was a blustery affair. I had a tailwind most of the way. Every so often the wind would abruptly change direction and slap me upside the face. Wake up, dude! I even caught a 20 mile per hour gust broadside that nearly knock me off the trail.

Tomorrow I work from home so I will miss out on one of the COLDEST DAYS OF THE YEAR!!! Actually by the standards of where I lived for the first 28 years of my life, these “brutally cold” days are pretty much the winter norm. Everything is relative. Except ice cold river water in your shoes, of course. That absolutely sucks.

 

I Think I’m Going to Need a Bigger Boat

I was planning on driving to work today. The forecast as of last night called for 1 – 3 inches of snow today. When I went outside to get the paper this morning, I found that it was above freezing and that a very light rain was falling.

I checked the forecast. We might get a dusting. No big deal. Time to ride.

The first three miles went rather swimmingly. Literally speaking that is. The rain had stopped. I pulled over to take a picture of the lack of sunrise over Dyke Marsh. Then I was back on the bike happy to see that the long boardwalk was free of ice.

As I left the boardwalk I could see that the trail was underwater. Typically this means that there is an inch of water from the river covering the trail. Today wasn’t typical. Snow melt, rain upstream, and a high tide caused the river to flood. The next mile went swimmingly literally.

I pedaled into the water and soon realized that it was well over my pedals. Water was flowing into my GoreTex hiking boots. In case you were wondering, Potomac River water is mighty cold in February. My feet almost immediately started going numb. I slowed my pedaling only to realize that walking was not a viable option. The water kept getting deeper.

Pedal, pedal!

This went on for anout 100 yards with a short break during which my wool socks did their thing and my feet came to life again. Then it was back into the pool.

Holy crap. Or maybe holy carp.

After another minute of soaking my feet and my just lubed chain I emerged from the icy liquid. Still more water covered the trail but this time I decided to take the high road.

I rode through the grass next to the Parkway envying the drivers on the dry pavement to my left. The grass was long and very wet so each yard of progress was hard work. I finally cleared the flood and got back on the trail.

I have been riding the trail since 1984. To my eyes, the river is now much closer to the trail than when I first rode it. About 10 years ago, a section north of Slaters Lane was moved 30 yards away from the river because of chronic flooding. Today’s flood was much worse than those floods.

My feet seemed to warm up again. I had to take an alley to avoid the flooding at the foot of King Street. I could hear pumps working to clear the water from businesses along Union Street.

Near Washington Marina, another section of the trail was under deep water. This time I took the grass route. This grass was even taller than the grass I had ridden on earlier. The Mule was not amused but slogged on through.

By the time I reached the Memorial Bridge, the cold river water was making my feet numb again. I made my way up the hill to Rosslyn and dismounted in the office garage. I fell against a wall. I could not feel my feet or ankles.

During my lunch break I began furiously looking for insulated scuba gear for the ride home. Alas, there was none to be found. Fortunately I didn’t need it. The trail was mostly dry with some pockets of flood-related debris.

I did see a car almost run over a pedestrian in the Intersection of Doom. The car was blocking the crosswalk which leads to the curb cut to get onto the Mount Vernon Trail connector. I need to use the curb cut. I caught the driver’s eye and waved at her to back up since there was no one behind her. Instead of backing up she inched forward as if to make a right on red with me approaching from her left and an unseen pedestrian stepping in front of her on her right. She stopped short just before hitting the pedestrian. I yelled at her to move back as I passed. She looked utterly bewildered. Driving this car is so confusing.

The remaining 14 1/2 miles went fine. My insoles were still filled with water so there was much squishing.

The slight tailwind made up for that.

If you think I regretted my decision to ride to work today, you’d be wrong. Biking to work isn’t always just a commute, sometimes it’s an adventure.

 

Super Monday

The day after Easter is called Easter Monday. Don’t ask me why. As far as I know not much happened on Easter Monday. Maybe Jesus bit the ears off some chocolate bunnies. But I digress.

Not really, I haven’t even started yet.

Stop arguing with yourself.

I rode to work on 6 hours of post Super Bowl sleep. Who won? Sydney, our Super Bowl party hosts’ Australian Labradoodle. Sydney is the most well behaved puppy I have ever seen. I think Sydney is actually some sort of animatronic muppet. Sydney was infinitely more interesting than the game. And not nearly as bizarre as the numerous LSD-influenced commercials.

So I rode to work on The Mule, back on the Mount Vernon Trail for the nonce. (24266061624_4058a63836_mDid he just say “nonce?” I’ll bet he drinks Dew and eats Doritos.)

I left just a few minutes before dawn. By the time I got to Dyke Marsh the sunrise got the jump on me but I took its picture anyway. My camera was not up to the task though.

The squirrels in my head have been especially busy lately. So I tried to concentrate on nothing during the ride. If that seems contradictory, it kinda is. Which is why it didn’t work very well. So the squirrels won.

I looked for signs of spring on the wispy branches of the willow trees along the trail opposite the Washington Monument. No luck. No buds. We’ll have to wait a few more weeks.

I turned left at the Intersection of Doom and fell in behind a lycra clad cyclist with a spiffy racing bike. He was going suspiciously slowly. Then I noticed that he was holding his left crank arm in his hand. Dude, that’s not how it works!

I’ll put up with squirrels in my head any day over pedaling with only one leg. (This is actually really hard to do but is supposed to smooth out your pedal stroke.)

The ride home was a bit of a slog. The 6-hours of sleep was not enough. The squirrels had gone to bed so I fell into my commute trance. This ended when I nearly ran over a walker who was coming toward me on my side of the trail. (Walk on the right people!!)

She was not a ninja because it was light outside. It stayed light for the first 7 or 8 miles of my ride home. I could get used to this.

In the dark the curvy last two miles of the trail to the stone bridge confuse me. I lose track of where I am in the sequence of turns. Did I cross the long bridge yet or just the two short ones? Did I pass the fishing hole?

All was revealed when I spotted the mansion with the Spanish roof tiles near the top of the gradual climb to Northdown Road. A VDOT plower whimsically left a pile of plowed snow in the middle of the street. Fortunately I was out of my trance by then.

At the intersection of Fort Hunt and Shenandoah Roads a rather ominous cluster of snowplows stood in wait for the approaching Dusting to 3 Inch storm of the century.

All this means is I will probably drive to work tomorrow.

The squirrels in my head don’t like ice.