Fall in Mount Vernon

After an early morning recon ride in the car with Mrs. Rootchopper, I went back on my bike to take some pictures of the local fall foliage. Fort Hunt Park has several maples that put on a show for about a week every autumn.

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And with the river, the foliage, and the angled sunlight, the Mount Vernon trail is simply beautiful.

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There are a few more on Flickr.

A Nudge into the Calming Rain

This day had to come. Rain. All day. While working, I just resigned myself to getting wet as I rode to the office. (Trust me, biking to work around DC in the rain is infinitely preferable to driving.)

No office, no ride? No way.

Still I needed motivation. A bike commuting friend posted a picture from her ride to work on Instagram. It was of the tree-lined paved path along the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. For all the dreariness, it made me miss playing in the rain.I could see her in my mind’s eye, plodding along with little effort, enjoying every splash. I envied her.

On when the rain gear and out I went.  From inside the rain looked like it was falling hard, but once I was outside it somehow seemed less daunting, inviting even.

I took the Cross Check to see if the gears were working properly, (They were. Yay!)

Long ago, I identified routes around my neck of the suburbs that required very few left turns and no highway crossings. I took one today. The streets were virtually empty. I made my way to Fort Hunt Park which has a 1 1/4 mile circuit. I rode around and around and around paying no mind to speed or effort, just letting the rain wet my face as I listened to the sound of the water passing through my fenders. I must have done about 10 laps. If not for my odometer I’d never know.

I finished on some more suburban roads. Passing houses under construction, devoid of work crews on this soggy day.

That’s okay everyone. Stay inside. I like it out here alone.

A tip of the helmet to my friend for the photographic nudge.

Sunday Eagle Bike Safari

It feels like February again but that didn’t stop me from a meander on my Cross Check. I rode into Old Town along the Mount Vernon Trail craning my neck at the bald eagle nests and trying not to ride off the trail into the river or into a tree. I managed to survive. None of the nests had any eagles visible nearby. When I turned south, I rode past Fort Hunt Park and I got lucky.

For those who know the trail, there are three nests between the stone bridge at Alexandria Avenue – where you cross over the GW Parkway and Old Town. Nest #1 is the Belle Haven nest. It is about 200 yards south of the Porto Vecchio condo building on the opposite side of the parkway from the trail and the river. It is the easiest nest to spot. It is also not occupied. Eagles frequently hang out in the tree. This happens most often at sunrise.

Nest #2 is the Tulane Nest. This one is located about 1/2 mile south of the Dyke Marsh boardwalk/bridge. It is after you pass the Tulane Drive exit. This nest is on the left after you cross two short bridges in quick succession. You’ll see a dirt patch on the ride side of the trail. Pull off and start looking into the trees on the river side of the trail. It’s massive.

Nest #3 is the Fishing Hole Nest. Heading south from the Tulane nest, the trail goes through a series of slight curves. At one point there are park benches along the river. This is what I call the fishing hole because I often see people fishing here. There are a couple of small islands a stone’s throw from the riverbank. You’ll see a nest in one of them. I think this is an osprey nest.

Nest #4 is the Morningside Nest. This one is located near the Morningside Lane exit of the parkway. As you head south from the fishing hole, you cross two bridges then start a slow climb. At the top of the climb and before the nest wooden bridge you will see a dirt patch off the right side of the trail. Pull off and look into the trees between the trail and the river. This nest is bigger that the fishing hole nest but smaller than the Tulane nest.

Nest #5 is the Fort Hunt Nest. This one is another massive one. Ride about 2 miles south of the Morningside Nest. The trail crosses the parkway at the stone bridge and cuts back under the parkway at Fort Hunt. You’ll climb a small hill and then cross a wooden bridge. Look in the trees above the trail. Twice I’ve seen bald eagles hanging out here. Today I saw this one.

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Another hundred yards south of the bridge you will notice that the right hand side of the trial becomes steep. Stop and look into the trees across the parkway. If you are lucky you’ll see a massive nest. That’s probably the home of our little friend.

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You can cheat and spot the nests and birds the way I do: look for the people with the gigantic lenses on their cameras. That’s how I found today’s eagle and nearly every nest.

Bonus nest: If you feel like getting way from the trail, ride Collingwood Road west for 1 1/2 miles. Collingwood turns hard to the right and becomes Parkers Lane. Continue about 1/4 mile down Parkers until you see the softball fields at the middle school. One of the light stanchions has a massive osprey nest in it. Also, you will have just ridden by a horse farm where an injured bald eagle was captured for rehabilitation last week.

If you wait a few months the trees will have leaves and the nests will be much harder to find. So get riding. If you are really lucky, you might even spot the elusive Rootchopper known to fly ever so slowly with his rubber side down.

Sunday Sight Seeing on the Mount Vernon Trail

On Sunday, two friends from my grad school days came over for brunch. Matt is not athletic. Mike is. Mike was going stir crazy staying with Matt so we agreed that I would take Mike for a bike ride after brunch. Fortunately, Mike is exactly my size so The Mule fit him. I rode my Cross Check.

Mike has a yard sale bike at home in Providence that he rides religiously once or twice a year. So I set a gentle pace. We did a tour of the Mount Vernon Trail bald eagle nests. Along the way Mike told me about how he recently used CitiBikes to ride around New York City. He said he would never have ridden a bike except for the fact that there are separate dedicated bike lanes. He felt totally safe. Mike should be the poster boy for urban bike infrastructure.

We made it to the Belle Haven nest but saw no eagles. As we rode further Mike told me about the  East Bay Bike Trail in Rhode Island. He loves it. I ran this once when it was a railroad line back in 1980 or 1981. It really sounds fantastic but Mike was annoyed that it wasn’t wide enough. Soon we entered Jones Point Park Mike was shocked to see a separate walking lane. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that most walkers ignore it.)

Under the giant bridge and into Old Town. Then we took the Wilkes Street tunnel and Royal Street back to the Mount Vernon Trail. Continuing south we stopped at the Tulane nest. I could barely make it out with binoculars amid the dense foliage. Mike never saw it. Onward to the osprey (or maybe bald eagle nest) at the fishing hole. No birds, nice view.

Our next stop was the Morningside Nest which I couldn’t find at all amid the leaves. My bald eagle nest tour was becoming a bust.

We continued down the trail to Fort Hunt Park, stopping to admire Fort Washington on the opposite side of the Potomac River. We did a lap in the park then headed for Mount Vernon. About a half mile from the park  I pulled over for one more bald eagle nest. I just could not find it. As I was giving up, I looked up and there it was, right out in the open. Easily the biggest nest of all. Mike saw it too. And just as he focused on it, an eagle flew down and into it. The nest, or actually the outside structure of the nest, is so big that the bird just vanished. I could occasionally spot the bird’s head bopping up and down, probably feeding an eaglet. As we were watching the nest, a second bald eagle flew in circles overhead. Woot!

We started talking with a couple who were walking their dog. Just as we were about to leave they spotted a bizarre looking naval vessel making good time on the river heading toward DC. It had a sort of dazzle camouflage on its sides. Very cool.

I took Mike up to Mount Vernon. He did not much a
ppreciate the last hill. After a brief rest, we continued  beyond the estate for a photo op before heading back home.IMG_0023.JPG

23 1/2 miles, 1 strange boat, 2 bald eagles.Not bad for a lazy Sunday.

After he left things got at tad more interesting, but that’s a tale for another post….

 

Of Wovels and Snowshoes

It’s Presidents Day, the holiday we really don’t much need but are stuck with. We had Christmas, New Years, MLK, and Presidents Day in quick succession then bupkiss. Who’s in charge of this calendar really? The long march to Memorial Day begins. Thank god baseball starts up in a month or so. Hell, I’d swap one of these holidays for opening day in a heart beat.

As luck would have it, we are having a cold spell combined with a winter storm. I think we had five or six inches here in Mount Vernon Virginia. It was just the right amount of snow for woveling. I woveled and shoveled for about 90 minutes this morning. The snow kept falling. The snowplows kept plowing my cars and driveway in. I kept woveling. I won.

After a late breakfast and some lying about I decided to drive to Fort Hunt Park for some snowshoeing. IT seemed awfully cold outside but once I put on my bike commuting gear I was perfectly comfortable.

When I arrived the park was empty except for a giant SUV doing donuts in one of the unplowed parking lots and a pickup truck plowing the park loop road.

I waved to the SUV people who were having a blast and headed off into the powder. Except for some cross country ski and critter tracks the snow was untouched. It was remarkably quiet too. Just me and my breath and the crunch of the snow under my snowshoes.

Breathe. Crunch. Breathe. Crunch.

I made a big circuit of the park.  Park of the park’s road system is blocked off so I checked it out. The snow was clinging to the trees. It looked like a giant donut baker had sprinkled powdered sugar on everything. So pretty.

The closed section of road comes back to the main loop road so I veered off down a path into the woods. I tried a steep section. I was stiff legging it, afraid I’d fall down despite the grippy teeth on the snowshoes. No problem. Sweet. Some of these trails are used by high school cross country runners so they are perfect for snowshoeing.

I was getting close to the GW Parkway. It was lightly traveled on this snowy day. I knew I was near a big bald eagle nest. I found two. One was in an evergreen tree. The greenery was only present at the top and the nest was just beneath. It didn’t look like the nest I have seen from the Mount Vernon Trail so I kept looking and soon found a nest made of large branches. This had to be it. (I managed to screw up the picture so you’ll have to take my word on it.) There were no eagle about so I kept slogging ahead.

After making it back to the main loop road I noticed something in a tree on the far side of the road. The underbrush kept me from getting close but it certainly looked to be the size of a bald eagle. It wasn’t moving though.

As I made my way back to the car, the snowplow came around the loop again. He slowed and waved to me. We were the only ones in the park.

Maybe Presidents Day isn’t so bad after all.

 

 

It’s Sunday in ‘Merica

Yes, today is a patriotic American Sunday. I bought my tax software yesterday and in about 2 hours finished the first cut at our returns this morning. It looks like we’ll be getting back a little over $300. I think that cuts the withholding to the quick.

After doing taxes, I decided to go for a short bike ride around the Fort Hunt neighborhood. This was a fairly uneventful lolly gag until I worked my way over the the Mount Vernon Trail and started heading north toward Fort Hunt Park. Then I heard a loud screech in the air to my left. I pulled off the trail and looked up and over and saw a bald eagle swooping down into the trees toward the massive Fort Hunt nest. I know of at least four bald eagle nests between Mount Vernon and Old Town and this is by far the biggest. Like all the MVT nests this one is nearly impossible to spot after the trees get their leaves.

My eyes were distracted from the swooping bird by another bald eagle soaring in a tight circle above. I looked back to the nest and spotted the other eagle perched on a large branch in the tree directly behind and above the nest.

The birds were too far away for me to get a picture with my camera phone. So my apologies for not capturing the moment.

The eagles behavior was consistent with this description of mating. So maybe we’ll have some eaglets in a couple of months.

I hopped back on my bike and rode around the Fort Hunt area until my toes became too cold.

I am back home preparing for the Super Bowl. This means taking a shower and carting the beer out to the car for our annual Super Bowl/Paulie’s birthday extravaganza. What better way to celebrate America and the onset of senility than by watching 300 pound men clad in plastic armor smashing into each other.

In concussions we trust.

 

Back Out, Day 15: A Walk in the Park

I should be better by now.

I am not better.

I am less worse.

I woke up pain free. Back stiffness set in within minutes. 

After a morning of hanging out, I drove (that alone is rather telling) to Fort Hunt Park, three miles from home. As I got out of the car, my back and legs felt fine. I walked the park circuit road, 1 1/4 miles, three times. After about 2 miles I felt like I was climbing stairs. My limp was much less pronounced today. I didn’t have pain in my hips or my lower back as long as I kept moving. Still I felt tired. Walking is exhausting when you have to fight for  a smooth gait.

I stopped to stretch out my iliotibial band. Resuming, I made it to the car at 2 1/2 miles, stopped to stretch the ITB again, then set out for lap three. A man on a bike flew past me. Envy.

I had to stop one more time to stretch but made it back to the car feeling not half bad. 

I rewarded myself with a Gary’s Lunchbox sammich at Sherwood Hall Gourmet, a deli near home.

After lunch and some more lazing about, I did 1 hour and 20 minutes of easy pedaling on Big Nellie in the basement. I felt fine the entire time. Getting off the bike, however, I felt the tightness in my left leg again. And my right foot went into a cramp, my toes curling as I stood.

Still, it was a day of some progress. I am hoping to be back to the bike commute in time for Friday Coffee Club. Unfortunately, I still have some unresolved items on my to-do list. New tires for one car, an inspection and minor repairs to another, and minor surgery on my finger. Hopefully, all of that will be behind me by mid March. 

By then I hope to be more better.

Lost and Found

After wasting most of the day expecting rain and getting little, I decided to take Little Nellie out for a test ride. Little Nellie is my Bike Friday folding bike. It was in the shop for some TLC. After I put on a new cassette, the good folks at Spokes Etc. at Belle Haven, my LBS (local bike shop), put on some new chain rings and a new chain and some new cables and housing, and new brake pads. They also put some lube around my bottom bracket.

I expected to go ten miles. Which led to another ten and another. It sure is nice to have a bike that works properly. And the click-click-click sound that happened whenever I pedaled hard was gone (thanks to the bottom bracket lube).

I rode to Fort Hunt Park then down to Mount Vernon. I stopped to check out the massive bald eagle nest on the edge of Fort Hunt but I couldn’t find it. It was completely obscured by leaves. Closer to Mount Vernon, I head two ospreys cavorting in the sky above. I could only see one and he was putting on quite a show.

My ride took me to a loop and a figure eight on the roads beyond the Mount Vernon estate. The streets are calm and well maintained. Sometimes I pick up a stray golf ball along the road at Mount Vernon Country Club. It is only fair that I do so since I lost dozens playing incredibly incompetent golf as a kid.

The weather was warm and a little muggy. This may have helped my disposition. I am truly sick of riding in cold weather. So it was time to get my yayas out.

When I got home I told Mrs. Rootchopper that that was the best bike ride I’d had in months. After my struggles on the ride to and from Baltimore, I was having some doubts about my biking competence. It’s a wonder what some warm air and an asthma-free day will do for your legs.