Any Road to the PNW – Pre-tour Anxiety

Construction, Fires, Floods, and Lions

I can’t sleep. All I can think about is the cascade of things that are going wrong with my bike tour and I haven’t even left home yet. From past experience I know that I have to go all mindful and concentrate on the here and now. This will be easier once I am rolling.

The route I am taking keeps changing and troubles keep arising. First I was worried about road construction on the route west from Missoula Montana. Next I discovered that the passes to the central Cascades in Oregon are compromised from last years wildfires. (Can’t wait for this years. Derp.) Then I found out that the route down the Columbia River gorge to Portland Oregon is partially closed because of more forest fires. This would force me to ride along the Washington State side of the river, missing Multnomah Falls in the process. For the last few days torrential rains have been wiping out the 185-mile C & O Canal towpath from near DC to near Williamsport, at Mile 100. Needless to day, the free camping sites are probably a mess too. This morning I learned that a mountain lion killed a mountain biker about 30 miles east of Seattle.

That’s right fires, floods, and lions. Whose idea was this anyway?

The Packing List

So I have busied myself making a packing list. Here’s what I am bringing.


  • Two-person tent
  • Lightweight sleeping bag
  • Silk sleeping bag liner
  • Pillow
  • Bear bag (for keeping carnivores away from my food)
  • Carbiner and nylon rope (to hang the bag)
  • Toilet paper
  • Utensils
  • Ear plugs
  • Sleep mask (for hostels)


  • Prescription sunglasses
  • Shaving cream
  • Razor
  • Toothbrush
  • Floss
  • Medicine
    • Maintenance inhalers (4) (Asthma)
    • Rescue inhalers (1) (Asthma)
    • Eye drops (glaucoma)
    • Aspirin (blood clots)
    • Ibuprofen
    • Nighttime Ibuprofen
  • Sunscreen
  • Ear plugs
  • Chamois cream
  • Back up prescription glasses
  • Book (maybe 2. Probably ancient Tom Wolfe paperbacks)
  • Passport (for going into Canada or boarding a flight if I lose my other ID)


  • Bike shorts (3)
  • Technical bike shirts (3)
  • Cotton t-shirt
  • Off -bike shorts
  • Belt
  • Technical underwear for either on or off bike
  • Socks (3)
  • Bike shoes
  • 1 old t-shirt to use as a rag after it gets worn
  • Floppy hat
  • Teva sandals
  • Rain pants
  • Rain jacket
  • Sunsleeves


  • iPhone
  • iPhone cable and charger
  • iPhone earphones
  • Small back up battery
  • Head light
  • Head light charger
  • Taillight belt
  • Taillight belt charger
  • Camera
  • Camera charging cable

Bike Gear

  • The Mule (1991 Specialized Sequoia touring bike)
  • Water bottles (2)
  • Extra water bottle in pannier
  • Four Ortlieb roll top panniers (2 small for the front, 2 large for the rear)
  • Ortlieb medium handlebar bad with map case
  • Bicycling gloves
  • Multitool
  • Tire levers
  • Tubes (3)
  • Folding spare tire
  • Valve adapter
  • Topeak RoadMorph Pump
  • Lube
  • Lock
  • Cables
  • Zip ties
  • Duct tape


  • Adventure Cycling Association Maps (14)
  • Rudi’s route to Little Orleans (A cue sheet to circumvent most of the C&O Canal. A very hilly route that I hope not to use.)
  • Trail mix
  • Energy bars/fruit

The new stuff for this tour is underlined. As you can see I have already crossed out a few items. I wouldn’t know what to do with a cable if I had to do a roadside repair so there’s no point in bringing them. And other than the fact that I can take pictures while riding, the camera is kind of useless. I can use my iPhone for photos, and it will force me to stop to take the pictures which is not a bad thing.

The Route

Whether I like it or not, the route is changing as I type. My current thinking is that instead of riding the canal directly west from DC, I use roads to get me about 100 to 110 miles upriver. So on day one will be spent riding on the roads to Fredrick Maryland. I’ll stay in a hotel. This replaces my first C&O Canal day. Day two will involve riding roads west from Fredrick picking up the Canal and the Western Maryland Rail Trail either at Williamsport or beyond and overnighting in Hancock Maryland at mile 125. (The bike shop has a bunkhouse with showers and WiFi and such.) Day three will be 60 miles of mud to Cumberland assuming the the trail is open. If not, the pooch is screwed. But I’ll mix my metaphors and blow up that bridge when I get to it.

Today’s Fun

My anxiety woke me up at 5 a.m. I have to ride 45 miles round trip to Vienna Virginia to return Bike to Work Day materials. I had volunteered to staff a pit stop 1 1/2 miles from my house. What I didn’t know was that I was responsible for picking up and dropping off Bike to Work Day materials for the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB), our suburban advocacy group, 23 miles away. This easy volunteering effort ballooned from a 3 hour commitment to about 12 hours. Suffice it to say, I’ll choose my volunteering events more carefully next time. On the plus side, I get to do a shake down ride on The Mule.

When I get home, I’ll watch the Nats game, do some laundry, and go a concert in DC. Hopefully, I can sleep in tomorrow.






Advocating and Zoning Out


Last night I went to a meeting of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling or FABB. This is an advocacy organization with a geography problem. Fairfax County wraps around Arlington and Alexandria. This makes it impractical for people in the southeastern part of the county (where I live) to attend meetings in the northern part of the county. So I have never gone before. Until this year, FABB has focused on the parts of the county far removed from my home. Last night they moved the meeting to 1/2 mile from my house. So I went. Irony alert: I drove.

It was a pretty crowded meeting and without seven cyclists that I know who live nearby. Much was discussed. A representative from the Mount Vernon Supervisor’s office was there. (Supervisors are like mayors of the county’s various districts.) Also, Adam Lind, our fearless county bike person, came.

What became apparent was that the Mount Vernon District has issues that no other part of the county has. Despite the fact that Fairfax County is one of the highest income jurisdictions in the country, there is precious little money to spend on bicycle and pedestrian facilities, unless the project is part of a enormous road construction project. If you want a bike project funded you pretty much have to organize a whole mess of people and raise a big stink. Repeatedly. Ugh. Or you can move to Arlington or DC.

I have been saying for quite a while that Arlington and DC are far more attractive to young professionals that Fairfax because they are less car oriented and more livable.  I heard this same sentiment last night. I’d say Fairfax is at least 25 years behind Arlington and DC in its approach to livable communities. This meeting, like every meeting I have attended in Fairfax, has had at least one non-cycling resident who thinks everyday cycling is inherently reckless and that cyclists must be protected against their own inability to assess risks. This kind of attitude creates inertia that takes years to overcome.

Zoning Out

After a five-day break, I was back on the bike today. The ride to work was highlighted (pun intended) by the fact that the sun was out when I left the house. Yesss!!! This didn’t stop me from taking my sunrise picture though. There as a small amount of black ice on the Mount Vernon Trail but nothing I couldn’t ride over. I didn’t much care for the cold headwind but the fact that I wore sunglasses the whole way pretty much made up for the discomfort.

The ride home was in daylight for about 1/2 the ride. I could get used to this. Plus I had a tailwind. I was about 2 1/2 miles from home when I went into a bike commute trance. My meditation. I looked up and noticed houses that didn’t look familiar. I had missed a turn. A turn that I have made hundreds of times. No worries. I took a different route and had a laugh.






The Introverted Advocate Rides Again

(I’m a day behind in my blog. You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for today’s exciting tale.)

It was a pretty typical Wednesday in March.  Temperatures in the 40s in the morning would give rise to violent weather in the evening and overnight. I took what nature gave me and set out on The Mule for a ride to work at sunrise. The sun did not disappoint.

Errandonnee #7: The Mule at Daybreak

I was in a trance for most of my ride to work. The only notable event occurred when I passed one of the Mount Vernon Trail loonies near the airport. This was the guy who was tossing debris and yelling at the traffic on the adjacent parkway near Belle Haven Park south of Old Town Alexandria on Tuesday. Today, he was walking against traffic and waving an American flag. Henceforth I shall call him The Patriot. Come to think of it he does look a little like Bill Belichick.

The approaching storm front made for much radar monitoring in the afternoon. Work. Radar. Worry. Repeat. About 3 p.m. the ominous cello music began in my head. You could see a thin line of really nasty stuff headed toward DC. (I think we’re gonna need a bigger bike.) I hit the road just before 5 and had only to deal with a headwind mixed with few sprinkles here and there.

After much fast (well, for me anyway) pedaling I pulled into the Mount Vernon government center for a meeting regarding the re-paving and re-striping of Sherwood Hall Lane (SHL), a busy two-lane street that connect US 1 with two other north/south roads, Fort Hunt Road and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The bike parking was pathetic which pretty much tells you all you need to know about Fairfax County’s attitude toward bicycling. I locked The Mule to the post of a parking sign and went inside.

Errandonnee #8: The Mule Advocates

The room was half full but became packed within an hour. Mount Vernon has the highest percentage of retirees in Fairfax County and most of them seemed to be in attendance. Tables showed maps of the proposals, all of which included bike lanes on both sides of the proposed re-striped SHL. According to Charlie Strunk, Fairfax County’s bicycle coordinator, the bike lanes are part of the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan and are paid for out of the county bicycling budget. The road varies in width so some sections have parking on both sides, some have a middle turn lane and parking on both sides, and some have either the middle turn lane or parking on both sides of the road.

Errandonnee #8: Bike Lanes for Sherwood Hall Lane

The VDOT and Fairfax County folks in charge of the project gave a presentation about what they were doing. SHL gets repaved every ten years. The re-striping is intended as a traffic calming strategy needed for three reasons:

  • Police and local politicians had identified numerous safety concerns

  • The road is very wide which results in frequent speeding

  • Traffic volume has increased because US 1 is gridlocked during rush hour and on weekends. This gridlock is caused by the extensive residential development and an increase in commuters to Fort Belvoir to the south.

During and after the presentation, citizens commented and asked questions.  It was interesting to see how many people feel that parking in front of their house is an entitlement, even though most of them have access to on-street parking a few yards away on a side street.  Some of the audience remarks were snarky, some procedural (this is DC, afterall), a few were downright inane (“Why do you need two bike lanes?), and some were thoughtful. My favorite was this one:

“A man on PCP drove up on my neighbors lawn. If she had been in her front yard, she could have been killed! We need that parking lane as a buffer!!”

What I was pleasantly surprised by was the number of people from the bicycling community including my neighbor and fellow blogging bike commuter and Friday Coffee Club attendee Jeff who showed up in support of the bike lanes. There were three or four people from Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). A bike commuter (She’s fast. She passes me every day.) who is a member of Potomac Pedalers spoke respectfully about the need for the bike lane for bike commuters and club rides.

Some children from Hollin Meadows School were the icing on the cake. They read a statement that explain how they wanted to be able to walk to school. They need a crosswalk and a traffic signal to do so. (Go kids!)

Shortly thereafter a homeowner said that he opposed a traffic light because it would lower his property value. That’s when I kind of lost my introversion and spoke up.

“Thank you for making these changes. I am not a member of Potomac Pedalers. I own three cars. I ride my bike to work every day and to use it to do errands on the weekends. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be able to do so safely in my neighborhood. Secondly, 23 months ago at noon on a crystal clear day, my wife had the audacity to walk across Sherwood Hall Lane. She was run over by an SUV. Frankly, I care a whole lot more about safety than about property values.”

Jeff gave me a you-done-good nod. Then he spoke. It turns out his kids go to Hollin Meadows too.

A couple other concerned bicyclists approached me. One took my contact information for a followup meeting of the Mount Vernon Bicycle Advocacy Cabal.

A reporter asked me for my information as well. (If somebody sees my name in a story, please let me know.)

The project team agreed to extend the period of public comment for one week. My guess is that they will swap some turn lanes for parking but the bike lanes will stay. Time will tell.

I walked out into the cold, dark, windy night. The temperature had dropped about twenty degrees and the wind was roaring. Thankfully, I had only ½ mile to go before home. I made it in a  breeze.

Errandonnee Summary

Errandonee #7:

Category: Work

Miles: 15

Observation: Sunrises are a drug.

Errandonnee #8:

Category: Community Meeting

Miles: 15

Observation: Thanks to the people who spoke up about the bicycle lanes at the meeting. My guess is that there were about 10 people who spoke up for bicycle and pedestrian issues.