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.

Manassas Gap: A Short Hike on the AT

The floor refinishing job in our house is done. All that is left is the move back into the rooms which will happen on Thursday. In the meantime we are staying off the floors as much as possible. They look great but the air in the house is a tad stinky. (Not nearly as bad as I expected.) So getting out of the house was the plan.

I decided to use the perfect spring weather for a hike. I drove to Linden Virginia to do a solo 2 1/2 mile out-and-back hike on the Appalachian Trail. Last year I did a similar hike a few miles to the north at Ashby’s Hollow. It was pretty tough. That section of the AT is called the roller coaster for good reason.

This hike started 100 yards from I-66 and went up. And up. And up. Most of the climbing was done through as series of switchbacks. For the first half mile, I could hear the traffic on the interstate. Once I put the mountain between me and the highway I was good to go.

I stopped to take pictures as I went. Not because I was seeing anything particularly spectacular but to put space between me and two women who were hiking together. I followed a spur to check out an overlook. It was pretty but I’ve seen the view 100 times before from the highway below.

The trees are just starting to leaf. This allowed me to see a long way through the dense forest down the side of the mountain I was climbing. When I was little, I broke a rule about staying near home and went for a hike in the woods that began a mile away.  It seemed like I was walking forever. It was really only about a mile. There was a thick carpet of pine needles and the pine trees muffled sounds of the nearby roads and suburbs. For some reason, this hike called to mind that one.

The AT is very easy to follow. This section of the trail is well maintained (by volunteers, I might add). I had passed the two hikers before the spur. When I came back to the AT, they were a few hundred yards ahead. I fiddled with picture taking allowing them to get out of sight.

I wanted some space from people and things. My wife and I have been confined to two rooms that are crammed with furniture for the rest of the house. This and a week in the office including attending a retirement reception for our old boss, made my introverted self feel very much trapped.

I was alone. And Asian man, perhaps 50 years old, came bounding down the trail in my direction. He had a big smile on his face. Then I was alone again. Slogging up the hill. I’d smile too if I were coming down.

Then I head footsteps behind me. Within minutes a bearded hiker with a backpack came past. He was moving at a steady clip, much faster than me. We said our hellos and he was gone.

At times the trail flattened out and my pace picked up. This was not a race. I spent most of my attention on the rocky path in front of me. If you look away while walking you’ll trip for sure. So you have to focus on the task at hand. If that isn’t meditative I don’t know what is.

Eventually I came to a shelter built for AT hikers. A middle aged man, his teenaged soon, and the hiker who blew by me were talking. The hiker had begun his trek at the start in Georgia. He was nearly halfway to Maine. The boy aspired to hike the AT with his father. They were doing their first recon of the trail on the date that the boy had set back in December. (This is one determined kid.)  The hiker told us some tales. He wasn’t hiking for some great spiritual experience. He just like to hike and had the time and the money. Why not. He seemed like a totally normal bloke out for a 2,200 mile stroll in the woods.

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After about 30 minutes I headed back down to the car. The going was much easier. No wonder the Asian man was smiling. I passed another northbound through hiker. I told him about the shelter and the through hiker I had met. “He’s my partner.”  No wonder he wasn’t lonely.

We went our separate ways. Two more Asian hikers came through. Maybe this was a coincidence. I had read that in Japan walking in the woods is held in high regard. Perhaps it was a cultural thing. Japanese researchers find hiking to be good medicine for the stress of urban life.

Another half mile and I came upon what looked like a husband and wife. They smiled but didn’t say anything. They were wearing ear buds. I cannot for the life of me understand why you’d wear earbuds in the woods.

After about two miles of downhill trudging, my lower back (which I had pulled a few days ago) was starting to rebel. To ease the strain, I broke into a trot. Of course, this made my knees angry. To take my mind off the discomfort, I looked through the trees down the mountain, trying to pick out the trail as it switched back and forth.

Back at the car, I ran into a man who was about to head up the trail for an overnight hike. He had no information so I told him about the shelter at 2 1/2 miles. Maybe someday he’ll just keep on going all the way to Maine.

The pix I took are over on my Flickr page.

I was thinking of driving to Philadelphia tomorrow to watch the Nationals play. I’ve never seen a game there. I tweeted the idea and none of my tweeps seemed he least bit interested in joining me. So I guess I’ll do a long ride somewhere. The Cross Check is itchin’ to get out.