Top Ten of 2016

As is so often the case, my top ten list goes to 11. Hey, it’s my blog and I make the rules.

Yooper for a Week
After 11 years I finally did another solo bike tour. I drove 13+ hours to Ludington Michigan. After a ferry ride across Lake Michigan, I rode The Mule fully loaded with gear into the north woods of Wisconsin. On July 4, I had breakfast in Freedom. After a few days I turned east and crossed the UP, the upper peninsula of Michigan. After the UP, I visited car-free Mackinac Island on a quiet Sunday morning. Other than a two-hour scary thunderstorm and three hilly days of headwinds near the end of the tour, the weather could not have been better. And I managed three ferry rides without getting sick. I rode 832 miles in 11 days. It was a wonderful combination of hard work and rolling meditation. I proved to myself that even at 60 years old I still got it. Okay, maybe not all of it but enough of it to get the job done. I can’t wait to do another.

An Eventful Spring
Prior to my tour I warmed up my legs by riding some bike events. I kicked the year off with the Vasa Ride, co-sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association and the Swedish embassy. It was a bit of a disappointment because this is normally a social ride but I rode it alone and didn’t do much socializing at the embassy reception afterwards. Next came the Five Boro ride in New York City. The Five Boro Ride has always been on my to do list but conflicted with work, parenting responsibilities, and personal lethargy. I convinced Paul to join me (with Amy along for moral support). Paul and I rode the 40+ mile ride in a cold rain at the start of May. It wasn’t all that much fun, but touring Manhattan the day before in splendid weather with the wonderful guidance of my BU friend Susan made up for riding the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in a driving rain.

At the end of May, I rode the new DC Bike Ride. Not to be outdone by NYC, we had cold rain for that one too.

Scary Night
In May, I woke up in the middle of the night with severe chest pains. After a few hours of increasing pain, Mrs. RC called for an ambulance. The ride to the hospital ½ mile away took 20 minutes but I was well taken care of. What I feared was a heart attack turned out to be a respiratory infection. Fortunately, a nebulizer treatment in the ER and antibiotics fixed me up over the next week. An earworm of the Neil Finn song Anytime played for days. “I could go at anytime. There’s nothing safe about this life.” Words to live by.

At the end of the week, I dragged myself out of bed and rode my bike on Bike to Work Day. I was still under the weather but I now know I can ride to work with one lung tied behind my back.

Pulling Beers Like a Boss
I have been lax in volunteering at local bike events, basically forever. This year, with my respiratory problems more or less behind me, I volunteered at the Tour de Fat in DC. This is a fundraiser for bike advocacy groups (WABA being one of many) and I was determined to help out. It rained. It was cold-ish. I pulled beers nonstop for two hours. Instead of hanging around for the rest of the day, I went home and went to bed. (Every party has a pooper that’s why we invited you.) Next year I hope to be around to volunteer again. And to socialize afterward.

Call Me Lars
Our daughter finished up her year abroad with a semester in Sweden. A few days after Tour de Fat, Mrs. Rootchopper and I flew over and toured parts of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. It was an exhausting two weeks and fun to re-visit Copenhagen after over 15 years. Although I was in bicycle heaven for most of the trip, I didn’t ride at all. If you ask me what my favorite place was my answer would be “Yes.”

Ain’t Baseball Great
I went to 19 Nats games this year. The last time I went to this many games was when I lived in Boston. I rode my bike to about 15 games. How convenient of them to locate the ballpark 16 miles from home. As a bonus, it was great seeing so many friends at the bike valet before and after the games. The rest of the games involved driving the kids, including my niece Irene for one game. One exhausting game lasted 16 innings and the good guys won on a walk-off home run. I even managed to see two playoff games. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the Nats lost their last game of the season, I can’t wait until April!

Fall Bike Frenzy
In the fall I did the Indian Head, Backroads, and Seagull Centuries (100 miles each), the 44-mile Great Pumpkin Ride (with Paul, Amy, and Jody), the 53-mile Cider Ride and, for the eighth time, the 62-mile 50 States Ride. I was already on fumes near the end of this madness, when an old friend asked me to ride with her to Harpers Ferry and back over two days. Given the fact that I had a colonoscopy (with the associated fasting and anesthesia) two days before we would have left, I declined. One ambulance ride a year is plenty.

Deets Provides a Surly Surge
A year ago I bought a new bike, a Surly Cross Check. Mostly, it hung on a hook in my shed, used only for the occasional weekend ride. This summer I started commuting on it. What a great commuter bike it is. I also did all my fall events on it. I named it Deets after the scout in the miniseries Lonesome Dove. Deets was said to be “cheerful in all weathers, never shirked a task, splendid behavior.” My Deets served me well until his back tire exploded on the way to work. Aye god, Woodrow.

Hiking Light
Unlike last year, I didn’t get much hiking done this year. I did the Billy Goat B and C trails on New Years Day which is becoming something of a tradition. Realizing that I-66 cuts right across the Appalachian Trail, I hiked it north (Manassas Gap) and south (Trumbo Hollow) of the highway. I also headed out to Shenandoah National Park to hike the Hogback Mountain trail. In late November I hiked the Potomac Highlands Trail from Turkey Run Park to the American Legion Bridge and back. A surprisingly nice hike so close to DC. Just before the year ended I did a meandering hike in Great Falls Park in Maryland.

Living Small
We had our wood floors redone in the spring. We hired a couple of amazing movers to relocate all our belongings from the top two floors down to the family room and basement where we lived among the piles of stuff for two weeks. It was quite a project. The floors turned out great. I came to realize that most of the crap that I have accumulated over the course of 25+ years in a house, I can live without.

Going Long
Coincident with my 61st birthday, my four bikes gave me a big present. I’ve been keeping track of the mileage on my bikes for 25 years and with an empty nest surge in recent years I finally made it to 100,000 miles. I also set my one-year personal mileage record of 8,167 miles.

That’s it for 2016. No mas. Thanks for reading. I am taking 2017 one day at a time. Love this life. It’s the only one you get.

Pictures of the Year 2016


Sunrise on the Mount Vernon Trail

When the sun and my work day cooperate, I stop and take in the sunset over the Potomac River. It rarely disappoints.

The Big Reveal
100,000 Miles

It took me 25 years but I managed to ride 100,000 miles since acquiring The Mule (bottom left) in 1991. In 2002 I bought Big Nellie, a Tour Easy recumbent (top left), and rode it exclusively for several years. In 2009 (or thereabouts) I bought my Bike Friday New World Tourist, a folding travel bike that I call Little Nellie (upper right). Last year I picked up Deets, a Surly Cross Check, that turns out to be a fantastic bike for commuting.

Drink Up Cowboy (Colonoscopy Prep)

In October, amid a frenzy of bike event riding, I had a colonoscopy. It was my third. I am happy to report that there was no cancer detected. I’ll be back in 2019 for another. Drink up!

Me in Front of Copenhagen Central Station Bike Racks

I went to Scandinavia with my wife and daughter. I didn’t ride a bike but I saw a few here and there. The cycling infrastructure is so much better than in the U.S. And the road users are all so well behaved. As my friend Finn Quinn once said: “The future is a foreign country.” We can only hope.

Beer Tent Volunteers at Tour de Fat

I volunteered at the Tour de Fat this year. I had fun despite not being completely recovered from my not so fun trip to the ER a week earlier. We were a well behaved bunch. The only beer we imbibed were the ones the organizers comped us for our efforts on their behalf.

Friday Coffee Club

You may never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You certainly won’t find it here because the building where this picture was taken is being renovated. Friday Coffee Club moved across town and, but for one appearance after Thanksgiving, I had to stop going. I miss these scoundrels.

Michelle Smiles Even When She’s Freezing (Vasa Ride)

Speaking of scoundrels, for the last several years Michelle has been running bike events at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA). I am convinced that she is trying to kill me. It is widely rumored that she even controls the weather. I am so grateful for all the hard work Michelle (and the other folks at WABA and the volunteers) put in to make #bikedc better every year. (Michelle also has a serious interest in the Beats and Kerouac. Check out her blog.)

Amy at Great Pumpkin Ride

It was windy and coolish, but Amy was determined to do her first long event ride. This hill during the Great Pumpkin Ride near Warreton Virginia was mighty steep but Amy (with Jody behind her) managed it without apparent difficulty. The leaves on the road were produced by powerful winds that made the day quite a work out. The rest stop after this photo was at a Old Bust Head brewery.

Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan

This picture doesn’t do justice to how steep these dunes are. And this is only about 1/2 of the height. The remaining elevation is obscured by the angle of my shot. Later that day the road I was on went up the dunes just to the south of this one. It made for some tough climbing into a persistent headwind. It was perhaps the physically hardest day of my 11-day solo bike tour. As hard as it was on my body, the tour was a feast of rolling meditation for my mind and soul.

What Yoopers Eat (Bike Tour)

The people who live on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the UP, are called Yoopers. They eat white fish and pasties (a kind of meat pie) and have their own candy bar. They (mostly) also talk like all the hockey players from Ontario that I roomed with during my freshman year at college. Eh?

My Deck Buddy

I was hanging out on my deck one sunny day when I went to open my deck umbrella and found this critter. Cute.

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My Perch in Left Field

The left field grandstand was my perch for about 10 games at Nats Park this year. I became personal friends with Jason Werth. (That’s him in left field.) Okay, that’a s lie.Somewhere up there under the third light stanchion is Klarence keeping score. Hurry spring!

Darth Paul on the Five Boro Ride

That’s Paul on the left on FDR Drive on the east side of Manhattan. It is cold. It is raining. Paul is not smiling. He had so much fun. We stopped in Astoria, Queens, to stand around and freeze our asses off. Who knew that the Brooklyn Queens Expressway would be even more fun. I have now ridden my bike across the Verrazano Narrows and the Golden Gate. Woot!

A Section of the AT

The Appalachian Trail is nice enough to come down to I-66 which made for a couple of convenient solo day hikes.

Veronica Help Us Save a Duckling on the MVT

I found a duckling on the Mount Vernon Trail on the way to work one morning. Mr friend Linel stopped to help and we tried to figure out what do with it. Then Veronica showed up. She took the duckling to her office then to an animal rescue place. This is a decidedly better outcome that the two animal skeletons I saw last year. Just sayin’. Thanks, Veronica.

Night in the ER

This is me getting a nebulizer treatment in the ER. A few hours earlier I couldn’t move without experiencing a knife-like pain in my upper right chest. (I blame yoga.) The doctors were pretty confident that it wasn’t a heart attack. I had a resting pulse of 46 and my blood pressure was normal. They did some tests and took some x-rays. Then they put this on me. I was recovered enough to do Bike to Work Day, volunteer at Tour de Fat, ride DC Bike Ride, and fly to Stockholm over the next nine days. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Five Boro Tour 2016

The day dawned gray and wet. It stayed that way. Paul and I dressed for the worst and rode the three miles to the Staten Island Ferry. The boat was filled with bicyclists and their steeds. In 30 minutes we were delivered to Manhattan Island. I expected to walk to the start but everyone just hopped on their bikes and rolled out. We followed. Past the World Trade Center. I didn’t look up. It’s tall. You couldDSCN4784_1198 fall over.

In short order we were in a massive street-wide queue. We soon le
arned that this was Wave 2 leaving at 8:10. We were supposed to be in Wave 3 scheduled to launch at 8:45. Yea, well…

After a half hour of waiting we started. We made it two blocks and stopped. “Gonna be a long day” thought I. After about five minutes we were underway again. Only to stop after another couple of blocks. The organizers were trying to give Wave 1 a little more time to get away. Slackers.

Two minutes later we began, this time for good. We made our way up Church Street past a building that looked like a jenga tower to the Avenue of the Americas. Really, 6th Avenue was too useful a name, I suppose. In the gray of this rainy day, the Avenue of the Americas looked unimpressive. We were going through some of the most famous neighborhoods in the city but it all looked like the back of a pack of wet bicyclists to me. I focused on not running into anyone, dodging asphalt patches, metal grates, and manhole covers. New York City loves manhole covers. It’s the manhole cover capital of the free world.

We remembered ourselves through Herald Square and soon passed Radio City Music Hall. At Central Park we were slowed and told to go either left or right. I thought the route would take us on Central Park East but instead we went left into the park, itself. The curvy, rolling road made for a much more relaxing vibe. I found my flow and went with it. Somehow, even after walking nine miles yesterday, my pedaling mechanics were dialed in. It’d been months since I’d felt this way on a bike. Which would have been great but for the fact that the flow was interrupted again and again by the thousands of bicycles I was sharing the road with. Just gotta roll with it.

We wound our way through the park, taking in views of the museums on Central Park East. Soon we were rolling through Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard. I grew up hearing horror stories about Harlem but, frankly, it was just about the most pleasant part of the ride. Clean streets. Well kept buildings. Friendly people. So much for Manchild in the Promised Land nightmares.

Soon we were crossing the Harlem River into the south Bronx. The Bronx has probably seen better days, maybe in the 1920s. Fortunately we were there for only a mile or two before re-crossing the river to Harlem Drive and FDR Drive. One thing became clear, the streets of New York are filled with debris. I saw several metal bolts, lots of glass, and other random junk. Word to the wise: don’t do this ride on a road bike with skinny tires, unless you want to get a lot of practice changing flat tires.

FDR Drive was hardly scenic. The rain starDSCN4804_1218ted falling harder. I passed a unicyclist. Seriously. Ev
ery few minutes some young dude would come blasting by in a big hurry. In the process he’d spray all he passed with the water coming across his rear wheel. Each time I said a sarcastic “Thanks” and suppressed my curses.

Along the way, we were occasionally stopped to let traffic get across the route. At the Queensboro Bridge we came to a stop because of a bottle neck. We turned right for a few blocks then left to the on-ramp for the bridge. I was surprised at how many riders had trouble climbing this bridge. I had no problem with it other than to safely ride around all the walkers and 3-mile per hour climbers.

A gondolla drifted by on wires above the East River. I hoped to see Spiderman save it from falling into the river but he was indoors making webs.

Once off the bridge we headed north into Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens. All kinds of famous people were born here. You could look it up.

At Astoria Hills Park we stopped to rest. We talked with a couple who were clearly underdressed for the raw weather. The woman was shaking but looking forward to continuing until Brooklyn where she planned to exit the ride and go home. Good luck.

Paul and I forged on. Heading south into a slight headwind down the east side of the East River. The pace picked up here as the crowd thinned and the rain came down.

Over the  Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn. I imagine Brooklyn looks better when the sun is out. I spent most of my time trying not to rear end people. I’d ride as straight a line as possible until I had to get around an obstruction. I found that the dedciated, protected bike lanes had less debris on them than the main lanes of the streets. Right lanes were pretty torn up, probably because they carried more buses and trucks.

The Brooklyn stretch was by far the longest. We passed under the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and rode onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, an interstate highway. There were grooves in the pavement that occasionally made it feel like I was getting a flat tire. Little Nellie’s little wheels were probably not the best for this pavement. The BQE was just plain dreary. Rain came down. Spray from cars on the other side of the road hung in the air.

As we approached the Verrazano Narrows Bridge a security officer motioned a cyclist to the side of the road. He had on a back pack. No-go since the Boston Marathon bombings. We were warned about this.

The climb up the bridge on the lower deck was long but very gradual. Again cyclists slowed to a crawl. Some walked. Avoiding them made the climb hard, not the climb itself. Near the top word of encouragement were painted on the road as if this were L’Alpe D’Huez. The big payoff for the climb is the views but not this day. You could barely make out Manhattan through the gloom.DSCN4847_1261

The ride down to Staten Island was fun but we held our speed in check thanks to the grooves in the pavement and the water on our rims. At about 1 pm, we rolled into a park and under a finish line banner. The park had food of every sort for purchase by the riders. Paul and I partook of chicken parm subs that were delicious. After about a half hour we rode the rest of the route back to the ferry terminal and, from there, back to the B&B.

48 miles for the day. No accidents. No flats. Lots of smiles despite the crummy weather.

My Flickr pix are here.

Some other comments:

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a big thank you to the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and police and other public servants who kept an eye on us. There were scores of volunteers along the route. How they stayed cheerful on such a lousy day I’ll never know. The police were out in force. Some looked pretty unhappy; others cheered us on. Imagine that, hardened NYPD veterans whopping encouragement. Every couple of miles, we’d pass a band playing under a canopy. Rock, soul, country, marching band drums, congas, you name it. Unfortunately, some EMTs had work to do. We saw or heard many crashes along the route.

The rest stops had hundreds of porta potties and seas of snacks and drinks. Apples, bananas, pretzels, energy bars. Early rest stops were quite crowded, later ones weren’t. To get to and from the rest stop, you had to walk a a block or two. Not a lot of fun in the rain but clearly a smart move from a safety perspective.

Riding in this kind of crowded event is best done by holding a straight line. Don’t look over your shoulder; you’ll drift off your line and potentially into someone behind you.

I would think that you could see a lot more of the city on a clear day, but, in truth, you’ll spend much of your focus on the bikes in front of you.

This is not a particularly hard ride. It’s easier than any metric century I’ve done and far easier than the 50 States Ride in DC. Except for the bridges and Central Park, it’s very flat. Ride it on a hybrid, cross or touring bike. Single speed riders found the bridges challenging, not for their steepness, but for their length.





Five Boro Tour Warm Up

Way back in February I signed up for the Five Boro Ride in New York City. This annual event involves riding 40 miles through all five boroughs of the Big Apple on a lovely spring day with over 30,000 or so of your cycling friends.

On Friday, Paul, Amy, and I drove to a B&B on Staten Island on a cool gray day. We should have known the gods had it in for us when we saw that the Bay Bridge was closed because of an accident. This added about 30 minutes to our drive. The entire ride featured a truly  annoying buzzing sound coming from the bikes hanging off the rear of my car.  We found out two days later that it was caused by a dangling blinky light. Our annoying drive to the B&B ended up eating most of the day.

Our first impression of Staten Island was not favorable. It is incredibly run down, particularly given the fact that it is a 30-minute ferry ride from the biggest financial district in the western hemisphere. Fortunately, our B&B was down a quiet side street. The B&B owner is a pleasant Polish woman who showed us the ins and out of her home filled with antiques, reading material, and snacks. (Yay, snacks!)  She explained how she escaped from behind the Iron Curtain and eventually found her way to America.

At her suggestion we headed out to Bruno’s for some dinner. It was a little Italian restaurant with a bakery. Suffice it to say, the bakery case was a pastry orgasm and the dinner was so good I wanted to cry. Bloated we headed out in the car determined to find a posh neighborhood on the island. Sure enough, Todt Hill filled the bill nicely. Enormous, new mansions on large, impeccably landscaped lots with exterior lighting to show off all their opulence. Relieved to know that the American dream hadn’t completely bypassed Staten Island we headed back to shelter and readied ourselves for a Saturday in Noo Yawk.

After a sumptuous breakfast that couldn’t be beat, we took a cab to the ferry. I had some trepidation about taking a boat anywhere as I get motion sickness at the slightest tipping of a deck. The Staten Island Ferry is smooth as silk so I had no problems at all. The ride goes past the Statue of Liberty so the sight seeing was underway while we were underway.

Our first order of business in Manhattan was to pick up our event packets at the Bike Expo located on the waterfront two miles east of the ferry terminal. We decided to walk because the weather was splendid. Along the way, by previous arrangement, we met up with Susan, an old friend from my college days in Boston. Susan has lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for most of her adult life so we had a great tour guide the day.

The Bike Expo was well organized. We picked up our packets without a wait and proceeded to browse to exhibits. There were scores of them. After getting some free ice cream we headed out to be shameless tourists.

Susan took us down Madison Street to Canal Street and Chinatown. We passed dozens of people hawking jewelry and purses and whatnot, all authentic brands no doubt. We somehow resisted making a purchase. Susan gracefully begged off when an eastern monk handed her a medallion and slipped a beaded bracelet over her wrist. Hare Krishna, Beauregard.

In Chinatown, Susan ducked into a bakery to buy a sweet rice treat. As we were sampling her purchase, two muscular thugs came bounding through the sidewalk crowd, looking over their shoulders as they slalomed through the mass of humanity. We all thought this was bad news until we started walking and found them talking to their cameraman and director. I don’t know what they were filming but we may be inadvertent extras in an epic crime fighting movie spectacular. Or maybe just a student movie short.

We walked to a square filled with court buildings. Susan pointed out that we should recognize them from movies and the TV show Law and Order. This would become a recurring theme. Basically Manhattan is a giant TV and movie set. This began a recurring theme for the day: everything seems to look familiar because you’ve seen it all before a million times on screen.

After our court date, we worked our way over to the World Trade Center area. Susan was in lower Manhattan on September 11 and she lived in a neighborhood where many 9/11 victims lived. She pointed out Saint Paul’s Church where pictures of the missing (and mostly deceased) people were posted, as well as a firehouse that lost all its fire fighters when the towers came down.

The memorial includes two deep square pits with water pouring down their black marble sides. On the top of the sides the names of the victims are carved into the stone. I couldn’t get over how many buildings so close to the twin towers survived the collapse. The new tower looms over the sight, reaching into the sky.

We sat for a while and rested our legs. Susan’s Fitbit read 10,000 steps. Good thing we only have to ride 48 miles tomorrow, I thought.

A cab took us to Chelsea where we walked the length of the High Line linear park, taking a break for lunch in the process. The park includes places where people sit in what look like grandstands. Perfect for people watching.

We exited the High Line and walked into the garment district back across Manhattan past the New Yorker, Madison Square Garden and Macy’s. We turned up the Avenue of the America’s just a block or so shy of the Empire State Building. Then we hailed a cab. And got a limo. Dead legs love limos.

We rode to Central Park South and walked through the southern edge of the park to Columbus Circle. In the Time Warner building we found a bar with comfy chairs and sofas and had ourselves a drink. Pooped.

After resting up, we headed back out and hoofed it past Carnegie Hall and into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I am a very lapsed Catholic but even a heathen can admire such an amazing building.

Spent, we hopped a cab back to the ferry. We thanked Susan profusely for wearing us out. (20,000 steps at least!) The ferry ride and a taxi ride later found us watching hockey on TV at the B&B. We hoovered a pizza and hit the hay.  The weather forecast called for rain and 50 degrees, all day on Sunday.

The ride would go on, rain or shine.

My pix from this crazy adventure on on my Flickr page.

Next blog will describe the ride.




2016 Coming into Focus

My 2016 bicycling calendar is starting to shape up. I just signed up for the 5 Boro Ride in New York City. By all accounts this is a big mess of a ride. Two night’s lodging and the ride itself will cost over $400, more than $10 per mile. I’ve never ridden in NYC or spent much time there so it’s no guts no glory time. YOLO.

For a tour I am trying to decide between three tours. One is a figure eight loop in upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. This combines the Adirondack Park and Green Mountain Loop tours from the Adventure Cycling Association. It’s about 830 miles. Logistics are simplified by the fact that I have family in the Albany area so I can drive the 400 miles there and drop the car off.  This tour would take about 2 weeks. It would add New Hampshire to the states I’ve ridden in. And involved a ferry across Lake Champlain.

An alternative would be an out and back ride from Albany to Bar Harbor, Maine by way of the ACA Northern Tier Route. This would involve riding from Albany to Ticonderoga then heading to Maine. This is about 1,000 miles round trip. It would allow me to pick off two states that I haven’t ridden in (Maine and New Hampshire), let me visit Acadia National Park, and maybe even develop a taste for lobster rolls.  This one is pretty hilly.

An second alternative would be to ride the North Lakes route (or most of it) from Indiana to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Wisconsin. This would involve some ferries including one across Lake Michigan.  The total mileage is somewhere between 980 and 1,050 miles. This would take me about 17 or 18 days and add two states (WI and MI) to the states I’ve ridden in.  I would start at my in-law’s house outside North Judson, IN. Once again simplifying logistics although the drive is something like 700 miles.

Today I saw a tweet from the Advernture Cycling Association. The ACA announced some changes to their routes. One of the changes moves the start of the North Lakes route in Indiana about 60 miles or so to the west. The new route passes within two miles of my in-law’s house. Are the gods trying to tell me something?