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….

 

Shakedown to Fort Washington

When most people buy a new bike, they jump on it and ride it until they are sick to death of the thing. Not me. Other than a five-mile spin around the neighborhood, I kept my new Surly Cross Check on ice for two weeks. I was waiting for a saddle bag to arrive before going for a longer ride.

The saddlebag is a Carradice Barley bag. It took about a week to arrive from England. For some reason they shipped it via registered mail so I had to sign for it at the post office after the mailman attempted delivery when I was at work. (You’d think the post office would have removed this sort of annoyance from its customers’ experience. You’d think wrong.)

I put the bag on my bike. I think it looks great. My bike is black with white decals. The Barley is black with white leather straps. It’s a bit small for my needs so I have ordered a Carradice Nelson Longflap bag. The Barley will go on The Mule.

A digression about Carradice products: I have two Carradice knock offs made by a company called Zimbale. They look nice but they are starting to fray from very light use. I noticed that at the very point of fraying the Carradice has a leather tab that reinforces the canvas on the bag. Long story short, you get what you pay for.

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The Cross Check on the left. The Mule on the right.

Before I headed out, I measured the seat height on the Cross Check and compared it to the seat height on The Mule. Based on this, I adjusted the Cross Check’s saddle down about 1/2 and inch.

And off I rode.

It’s hard to tell how much of the zoom factor was from the adrenalin of riding a new bike and how much was from the fact that my other three bikes are tanks. Either way, this bike is a blast to ride, not quite as fast as a proper road bike, but very forgiving on bumps and such. After three miles I felt I could ride forever

Bad idea. Anytime you ride a new bike, you should not go overboard. You’re body will freak out from the subtle differences between the new bike and the bikes you are used to.

After five miles of smooth riding, I decied to ride to Fort Washington, part of the defenses of Washington in the early 19th century.

The route took me across the Potomac River on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (I-95). There are some ugly explansion joints that gave me a jolt. They give me a jolt on all my bikes so I am not complaining. On the Maryland side of the bridge, there is a cool spiral ramp to take you down towards National Harbor. I was hoping to let the Cross Check rip here but it was packed with about 20 walkers.

After that, I rode up Oxon Hill, a long slow grind. It took a while to find a rhythm but once I did the Cross Check carried me up hill nicely.

I took a right on Oxon Hill Road and found myself on fresh asphalt. Maryland’s Department of Transportation (MDOT) did a nice job on this new road, throwing in a couple of roudabouts in the deal. The Cross Check loves roundabouts. So much fun.

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I jumped off Oxon Hill Road in favor of the less trafficky Fort Foote Rd. This road cuts through a suburban, residential neighborgood before it loops back to Oxon HIll Road.

This section of Oxon Hill Road needs some work. I zoomed down a hill, rolling right over all kinds of asphalt patches. Smooth as silk.

I banged a right on Livingston Road and another on Fort Washington Road. Soon I was digging out my annial pass to federal parks. I rolled through the park and eventually walked my bike into the fort. It’s pretty awesome. Tall brick walls protected by a dry moat. I stood next to where the old gun emplacements were.

After hanging out I headed for home, retracing my route, but skipping Fort Foote Road. Also, I stopped at St John’s church, built in colonial times.

There is one big hill on Oxon Hill Road that I wanted to try. Let’s just say, my pathetic ascending skills are not about the bike.

The down hill back to the Wilson Bridge was quite a lot of fun. I was cruising at 33 miles per hour. The bike was on rail. Weee!

After about 30 miles my lower back and neck were starting to complain so I headed home. I will probably need to tweak my saddle position a bit but for a first ride, this one was pretty darn comfy.

For some pictures of my excursion, check my Flickr page.

I have yet to name my bike. I have some pretty strong contenders though.

I wouldn’t want to rush into things.

Two Fort Ride

The weather here in DC could not have been better. 70 degrees. Light winds. Sunny skies. Low humidity. I could practically hear my bikes calling me. Ride me!!! Ride me!!!

Little Nellie won the draw, but that was probably not the best choice. I started by riding to the dry cleaning place on US 1, because nothing says bicycling fun like a few moments on the WORST cycling road in America. Actually, I cheated death by riding through the drive through at a Walgreens thus allowing me to stay on the side access road. One of the items I took to the dry cleaner was the holey sweater. I have to tell the lady behind the counter that I know it has holes in it but that’s okay. Taking the holey sweater to the dry cleaner is my humble way of saying that WINTER IS OFFICIALLY OVER!!!!

I headed back home because I forgot to take an antihistamine and the tree pollen count is off the charts. You know it’s bad when the cars are all yellow.

I took the Mount Vernon Trail to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The bridge was a bit of a climb and so was the mile long slog to the appropriately named Oxon Hill Road. I took a right on OHR which sucks for bicycling on a good day. Today, however, was not a good day. Today was a shitty day. OHR is being rebuilt or widened. The construction will hopefully make things better for cyclists but, in the mean time, I rode next to half mile of Jersey barriers with cars buzzing past me.The potholed and patched road surface would have made this a difficult ride without my motorized friends. To their credit most of the drivers who passed me gave me enough room to ride so I can’t complain.

I got off OHR and onto Fort Foote Road. Ahhhh!!!  I decided to check out Fort Foote, one of 60 forts built on the perimeter of the capital during the civil war. Fort Foote, was it turned out, saw the same amount of activity in the war as Augusta Maine. There’s not much to see. Most of the fort was dirt and timbers. It’s actually a nice place for a walk in the woods down to the river. I rode Little Nellie down one trail until it became a windy narrow corduroy-ed mess of tree routes.

As I continued on my little trek, I took every side street that looked like it didn’t come to a dead end. It was actually a nice little suburban neighborhood. There were the usual split levels, ranches and colonials but, every so often, I’d see as house of stunning architectural hideousness.

I eventually popped out back on OHR for another half mile of bumpy car dancing before I turned off toward Fort Washington. Soon after making the turn I spotted three bike tourists. Two were on a recumbent tandem pulling a Bob trailer. I swear the side of the trailer said Burlington Northern. The third tourist was on what looked like a Tour Easy, the same bike as Big Nellie.

Laid Back Touring

I turned into Tantallon, a residential development with a golf course. I didn’t realize this until I saw three golfers on a green next to the road. The course is strange in that the houses are practically in the rough along the fairways. If I played here I’d take out a couple of windows each round. (“Excuse me., ma’am. I believe that’s my Titleist in your spinach dip.”) I had an occasional mean slice. By occasional, I mean that I sliced the ball when I wasn’t hooking the crap out of it.

The last mile into Fort Washington is surprisingly hilly. I managed the climbs with a  huff and a puff and was rewarded by the fact that entry to the park was free. Thank you Congress for putting the fee collector out of a job. The park was beautiful. A runner was having a field day cruising up and down the park roads. I envied her.

I have previously toured the fort itself.. Unlike Fort Foote, this one is actually more or less intact. It’s sort of an unknown treasure in the DC area and well worth a visit.

After checking my map app, I decided to return on Old Fort Road. This road has some truly gorgeous stretches. I especially enjoyed two curving lanes of smooth asphalt alongside a long stretch of woods. You’d think you were miles and miles away from the hustle and bustle. Of course, crossing six lanes of Indian Head Highway snapped me out of that. All the climbing I did to get to Fort Washington was worth the effort because Old Fort Road has one hold-on-for-dear-life downhill that, sadly, ends at a traffic light back on Indian Head Highway where it becomes OHR.

And so it was time to head home. By the end of the ride, my windpipe was sore, from either the pollen or asthma, I can’t tell. I didn’t mind. I had just finished 50 miles of two wheeled discovery and a beautiful spring day. Next time, I will take either The Mule or Big Nellie. Little Nellie’s 20-inch wheels were not the best choice for the potholes and patches of PG County MD.