Trails to home

Today was the first day since the before times that we allowed our bi-weekly cleaning service back into our house. This meant that my wife and I didn’t have to spend a good part of the day cleaning. It also meant that we needed to get out of the cleaners’ way. Normally, we would go to a diner then a library. With that off the table (or booth) my wife made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t we drive someplace, I’ll drop you off and you can ride your bike home?”

Sounds like a plan to me.

So we jumped in my dusty Accord and drove to Purcellville, Virginia at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would ride east 45 miles on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail back to Arlington. There I’d pick up the Four Mile Run Trail for a couple of miles before turning south on the Mount Vernon Trail.

With the pandemic still in evidence, the drive to the start was uneventful. I left my wife to check out the bakery at the trailhead. (Thumbs up on the eclairs, she reports.)

I expected the ride to be mostly downhill. It is. Purcellville is at 575 feet whereas the low point of the ride near National Airport is at 15 feet. Of course there are a few long grades both up and down along the way, as well as a few abrupt rollers to keep things interesting.

What I wasn’t counting on was the headwind. Having an invisible hand on my chest put a damper on my speed. I did do a few miles at 18 to 20 miles per hour but not as many as I had hoped.

The trails were not crowded at all, except for one group of eight old folks out for a meander. Old people suck. Oh, wait….

Anyway, a few minutes delay is not much to complain about.

I had two small energy bars left over from my 50-States Ride goodie bag. That’s all I ate. I was surprised that I didn’t bonk. I also drank two large water bottles. Maybe my modest intake is to blame for the cramps that came on during my post-ride stenosis physical therapy session.

Outside Purcellville I saw a momma and a young deer. They were too shy to be photographed. Later I saw a Dad with his daughter examining a box turtle that had inched onto the trail. My final critter of the day was a rather large groundhog that was standing at attention a foot off the trail in Vienna. It seemed not the least bit concerned about me as I rode past.

The trees are turning. I had hoped for more reds but today offered more browns and yellows. One big leaf decided to hitchhike on my front wheel causing a racket when it got stuck between my tire and fender.

I was sorely tempted by the breweries and brew pubs along the trail. There seems to be one every five miles or so. You could get a serious buzz on if you stopped at each one.

East of Vienna the trail is undergoing work. There’s a detour that I couldn’t quite figure out but once I got straightened away, I found it: a on-road protected cycletrack (two lanes, one in each direction). Well done. In Falls Church city, the trail is being doubled to accommodate traffic. (I wonder if people opposed the trail when it was being built, thinking nobody will use it. Can’t imagine what they’re thinking now.) The detour around the construction is on road and unprotected. There’s hardly any car traffic so no worries.

At the eastern end of the Falls Church construction is a new bridge that will take the trial over North Washington Street and do away with a dangerous at-grade crossing. It looks like the bridge is nearly done. It’ll be a huge improvement.

Back on the street near home, drivers weren’t allowing me to move over to make a left-hand turn. I kept riding straight and overshot my turn. Before doubling back I could see the line for early voting at the government center down the street. Yesterday the line extended nearly a half mile along the sidewalk. Today, it was considerably shorter but my wife says that’s because people were a bit more bunched together. These two days brought to mind the lines at the polling place on election day 2008 when the prospect of the first black president brought an incredible turnout.

It’s been a while since I did a point-to-point ride, the stuff of bike tours. DC-area trails are limited in coverage and connectivity but if you play your cards right you can ride 57 miles and do 54 1/2 of them without a big metal thing breathing down your neck. Not a bad way to avoid a cleaning crew if you ask me.

Minding the W&OD

“Everything is walking distance if you have the time.” Steven Wright

Q: “What’s the secret to a long marriage?”

A: “Don’t get divorced?” Olivia Harrison

After a rather ambitious week of riding (252 miles), I decided it was time to up my game. I had intended to ride the Whites Ferry Loop on Saturday but I got underway a bit late and decided to abandon the effort about 28 miles from home. The resulting 57-mile excursion left me wanting something more better.

And so I launched Big Nellie intending to ride the big beast to Purcellville. About 1/4 mile from home, its rear shifter cable snapped in two, so I returned home for The Mule. While changing out of my recumbent clothes (regular street clothes) into biking gear I had an asthma attack.

My asthma diagnosis is mild persistent asthma. It manifests itself not in wheezing episodes but in labored breathing and a fog of depression. One puff of a rescue inhaler (albuterol sulfate) and my lungs settled down. I hopped on The Mule ready to rumble.

The out-and-back route involves three miles on suburban streets to the Mount Vernon Trail. The trail takes me north along the Potomac River about six miles to the Four Mile Run Trail at National Airport. After another three miles the FMRT ends in Shirlington where I pick up the Washington and Old Dominion rail trail which goes 44 1/2 miles all the way to Purcellville at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I’ve probably done this ride ten times. It’s a good test of riding endurance and the ride (except for one hill on the way back about 2 1/2 miles from home) seems virtually flat. I said “seems” because ride gains elevation then gives it up, resulting in about 1,400 of gross elevation gain.

The scale of the chart is deceptive; each gain in elevation is gradual, but for a handful of abrupt rollers from time to time. The biggish hill from mile 32 to mile 39 is mostly uninterrupted. The one from mile 1 to mile 9 has several cross streets and traffic lights making it hard to take advantage of the favorable grade on the return.

Along the way the trail passes through Arlington, Falls Church, Dunn Loring, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, Leesburg, Clarks Gap (the high point), Paeonian Springs, and Hamilton Station before ending in Purcellville.

It always seems like a long slog on the way out. Mostly I attribute this to the gradual elevation gain. There’s also a psychological element that I’ve never been able to get my head around. Going places somehow seems much longer than returning, regardless of your mode of transport.

The density of trail users fluctuated as I passed through more heavily populated areas. If you’re into beer, you can stop at several mircobrewies along the way. (I didn’t.) Many years ago the area near Dulles Airport was farmland but nowadays it’s suburban sprawl. From Ashburn to Leesburg is less developed. You can check out a quarry if rocks are your thing. From Leesburg to Purcellville is a tunnel of green bliss, easily my favorite part of the trail.

My odometer is rather sketchy but it read 56.36 miles when I reached Purcellville. I took a selfie with one of the Purcellville signs (the other had too many bikes under it so I had to go small.

Bikey mask courtesy of Mrs. Rootchopper

There’s an old saying among marathoners. The race is 26.2 miles long. The halfway point is around 20 miles. That’s when the bear jumps on your back.

I expected the same from this ride. I had about five hours of daylight left so I was definitely in Steven Wright mode. The way to ride over 100 miles is, like Olivia Harrison says, is to keep on going.

And there I was bombing down the long grade from Clarks Gap at 20 miles per hour. The downhill grade and the mental aspect of having already seen the sights put my mind at ease. I’ll get there when I get there.

On the way out I ate a bagel with peanut butter on it. At Purcellville I snarfed some trail mix. I stopped in Leesburg on the return for more snacks. A gatorade and some cookies got my energy back up.

The gentle rise in the trail just west of Vienna started to mess with my head. It’s a false flat; it looks level but it’s not. When I finished with it, I stopped at the Vienna railroad station (long ago made inactive) and ate a Snickers bar.

23 miles to go. No guts, no glory.

As I plowed along, body parts started to complain. My thighs. My lower back. My left shoulder. To ease my discomfort, I stretched as I rode. I got out of the saddle for the short climbs, anything to distribute the fatigue. (Sadly, you can’t do this in marathons. You’re body goes all wonky and you just have to run through it which is rather depressing when you can’t lift your thighs.)

Three miles from home I decided to climb a short steep hill to avoid adding a bit of distance to the trip. It was the only time I used my granny gear. My knees were thankful.

20 minutes before sunset, I rolled into my yard. 113 miles, my longest ride since June 2018, and only my third century since then.

Anything is biking distance if you have the time and don’t quit.

Two for Tuesday

I Rode a Jackie Robinson Today

The thermometer said 73 degrees. I stepped outside. It was no lie. Dang! I went for a ride, of course. In shorts. Yes, shorts!

I know I am supposed to be taking it easy but did you hear what I just said? 73 degrees in January. And SHORTS!!!

So I went for a level-ish ride on some local trails, mostly the Four Mile Run, W&OD, and Mount Vernon Trail. With a steady wind out of the west, the ride out the W&OD was a bit of a slog. I decided to turn around to have a little fun with a tailwind.

Wheeee!

I timed the turn around just right. Near the end of the ride it started to feel a little cool on my legs.

My odometer read 42 miles. That would be 79 miles for two days. I haven’t done this much riding since early November. And my heart and respiratory rates stayed down the entire time. My windpipe, which has been tight for weeks, felt like it was wide open.

All I can say is WOW. I can’t believe how good I felt for all 42 miles.

I know. I know. Take it easy, you idiot.

Cold air is coming. That will mellow me out.

The Cereal Quilter Quiz

Mrs. Rootchopper is a quiltaholic. She’s made 37 quilts last year. It was an off year for quantity. (I kid you not.) She spent more time than she had intended preparing donated blankets for distribution to sick kids.

She makes a lot of quilts and other fabric creations for sick kids. The quiz question is: why would she need me to eat more breakfast cereal?

 

 

 

 

How Do You say “Sandbagging” in Spanish

To recover from yesterday’s 55 mile meander I decided to do a 36 mile meander on Big Nellie. I mean why not meander while the meandering is good? Again, unbelievably, the weather was absolutely perfect for riding a bike.

Off I rode to do the Tour of Arlington, a loop around Arlington County Virginia entirely on bike trails.

I headed north on the Mount Vernon Trail. I stopped after a half mile to buy lemonade from a little boy and his mom. They were giving the proceeds to a  hurricane Harvey charity.

IMG_0135

Apparently the word got out that the trail is a nifty place to ride on a holiday with perfect weather because it was CROWDED!!!! Once I cleared Belle Haven Park I was enveloped with the scent of honeysuckle so I stopped to smell the flowers.

IMG_0136.JPG

I took my time and rode into Old Town Alexandria. The streets were CROWDED!!!! I made it through unscathed and approached the warehouses at the north end of Old Town. I spotted a woman riding up ahead and thought it might be Emilia. Sure enough it was. She didn’t recognize me apparently because I was on my unobtrusive long wheel base recumbent.

Once I said her name and waved she said “Hi John. Is that Nellie?” All was right once more. Big Nellie was flattered to be recognized. If a bike could blush, she would have.

I rode behind a friend of Emilia. They seemed intent on making good time. Emilia and I tried to talk but the one-behind-the-other thing didn’t work. I rushed ahead to get a decent photo of them but they flew by before I could get my phone ready. Then about 10 other bikes rolled by. Soon I was faced with the task of getting past all these people and dealing with heavy on-coming traffic. This is harder on Big Nellie for two reasons: (1) Big Nellie does not accelerate fast and (2) Big Nellie is low to the ground so I can’t see what is coming and what is coming can’t see me. I think I kind of pissed off some people but I managed to get around the crowd and caught up to Emilia and her friends. Her friends went north on the trail at the airport; I followed Emilia west on the Four Mile Run trail. Now when I tried to talk to her, Emilia was on her phone. Oh well.

IMG_0146

I sagged back a bit so as not to intrude on her conversation. That it was in Spanish meant that I had no idea what she was talking anyway, but I wanted to be polite. I kept pace and looked down. Emilia, riding a hybrid with wide tires and chatting on the phone, was cruising along effortlessly at 13 – 14 miles per hour.

I signed Emilia up for the 50 States Ride this year. Ever since she has been sending me messages that she is slow, that she is out of shape, and that I should be nice and wait for her during the ride. She repeated this today during our brief chat.  The reality will be rather different, I fear.

Last weekend Emilia and some friends rode to Harpers Ferry (and back) along the C&O Canal. The distance including the ride from her house to the start was about 65 miles each way. Nearly all of it on unpaved surfaces, some of it muddy. When I saw a picture of her in Harpers Ferry on Saturday I thought “Wow, they must have left early.” I thought this because Emilia looked like she had showered and changed clothes. I was wrong. She had just finished the ride. She looked completely relaxed and composed.

The same was true today. She just cruises along. No effort. Today she told me she no longer drinks alcohol or eats sugar. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

Como se dice “sandbagging” en Espanol?

Anyway, when she got to the end of the Four Mile Run Trail she turned left to go home and I turned right to continue on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.

After a few more miles I turned right onto the Custis Trail that heads back to the river. The trail has a series of rolling hills. Big Nellie started hill hopping, flying down one hill and up the next. This was why god invented bicycles. Fortunately, this trail was not at all crowded. Wheee!

Back at the river the trail was once again CROWDED!!!! I took my time and pedaled onward. I stopped at Gravelly Point to take some pictures.

IMG_0149

I arrived in Old Town to find it even more CROWDED than before. I think it had reached peak tourist. The intersection of King and Union was absolutely gridlocked with cars and walkers. I rolled to the front of a long line of cars waiting at the stop sign at King Street. A huge pick up truck was stuck in the middle of the intersection unable to move because of all the pedestrians. When a gap in the pedestrians opened up, I slowly rolled past the rear of the pickup, waited for a gap in the pedestrians crossing in the next cross walk and rolled free. Alexandria really needs to ban cars in Old Town on days like today. They serve no reasonable purpose.

A few blocks further on, I spotted  a massive line of people winding along the sidewalk from the left and turning down the sidewalk along Union Street. The line was 3 or 4 people wide. It turned out that all these people were there to see a tall ship that had docked this morning.

I cleared the mass of humanity and headed for home amid the breezes and the warm sun and the smell of the honeysuckle.

 

 

 

First Day of Spring: This Bird Doesn’t Get the Worm

I took the day off to go to the doctors office. The weather looked great but there was still a chill in the air, especially considering this is the first day of spring.

DSCN5792

I rode to the eye doctor’s office, picking up my first errand of the 2017 errandonnee in the process. I was expecting to be dilated which would have ruined my ability to read for the next several hours. Instead, the doctor checked my personal field. My right eye didn’t fare well. A closer examination of my eye revealed protein deposits on the membrane behind my lens. My lens is artificial having been replaced during cataract surgery. I had notice some difficulty seeing in low light and was planning on getting new glasses. Now the glasses will wait until I get the membrane cleared. This will be done with a simple laser procedure. It takes about three minutes. Still, to my mind it counts as eye surgery. It will be my 7th surgery and my 3rd of this type.

After the doctor’s visit, I rode to DC to check out the cherry blossoms. Basically, there were none. The cold temperatures knocked the trees for a loop. I rode to Hains Point and then up to the Tidal Basin. So disappointing. Next I  stopped to help some visitors from Minnesota. I took their picture under the non-blossoming trees with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. They have come to DC five times to see the blossoms and haven’t seen a peak bloom yet.

DSCN5800

I biked and walked around the Tidal Basin then headed for Virginia. I wanted to check out the sale of winter gear at the Spokes Etc. store on Quaker Lane in Alexandria. I rode the Mount Vernon Trail to the Four Mile Run Trail to Shirlington. This was about 6 or 7 miles without a traffic light and only two stop signs. Not bad. Once in Shirlington I backtracked and rode up the long hill to the Quaker Lane shop. They were all out of the jacket I wanted so I headed for home along the King Street bike lanes. The city did a pretty nice job with this. On the way home, I swung by the Belle View Spokes Etc. shop where I had tried on a jacket a few days ago. The jacket had been sold so he who hesitates doesn’t get the worm. Or something like that.

Some more pix from my excursion are on my Flickr page.

 

And They’re Off

Today was the first bike commute of the year. Yay, me. I rode in after sunrise because I waited for my daughter to leave for the airport before starting out. I was rewarded with a big hug and a relentless headwind. The hug lasted 10 seconds, the headwind lasted 14 1/2 miles.

At lunchtime I went out with some co-workers which is something I rarely do. We went to a Thai restaurant. The last time ate Thai food was 1980. I kid you not. The 1980 Thai food was fire in my mouth. Today’s was much tamer. It was good but it didn’t stick to my ribs.

One the way to the Thai restaurant a co-worker pointed out a garage with a historical marker. It’s where Bob Woodward met “Deep Throat” during the Watergate scandal. This marker is within 100 yards of a marker commemorating the begining of the ARPA net, the precursor to the Internet. Who would have thought that lousy Rosslyn is the home of two incredibly important events in recent history?

IMG_0438

During the day a friend announced that she is going on a vacation for a couple of weeks. She doesn’t currently have a job.  Hmmmmm…….

When I left work there was still some daylight. Yesss!

Then I got to the Custis trail and it had been sprayed with de-icer.  Way to go Arlington County!! Of course, when I got to the Mount Vernon Trail it was untreated because it is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Boo, NPS!!

The ride home was a breeze. Literally. The morning’s headwind was now at my back and the riding was effortless. Passing over Four Mile Run I noticed that Arlington County had treated the Four Mile Run Trail too. Yay, again.

Tomorrow we expect the first snow fall of the season. As luck would have it I have an appointment with my acupuncturist so I am driving to work. Barring a medical miracle it will be the last. The treatments are having no effect at all. Even my arm is starting to hurt again.

And Wednesday promises to be brutally cold. I am going to miss the fun of bike commuting because I need my car to get to an early evening event in McLean.

I plan to be back in the saddle (if the Mount Vernon Trail is clear) on Thursday.