Sweet and Nasty

There are right ways and wrong ways to do a hilly bicycling event. I chose the latter.

On Friday night, I dined on a Texas chili mac with cheddar, beans, and onions, a true gut bomb. Saturday morning I ate shredded wheat for breakfast. Then I rode 15 miles to Nationals Park to take in a baseball game, my first since the before times. There I drank my June beers, two tall, bland, vastly overpriced lagers.

The Nats won and I left the ballpark happy. Well, most of me did. The combination of chili, shredded wheat, and beer was causing me intestinal distress that would make both a gastroenterologist and a volcanologist proud.

I made it home in one piece and felt a bit better after some time on the porcelain throne.

Fast forward to the wee hours of the morning. Rumblings within woke me and kept me awake all night. By six in the morning all was calm but I now had the brain fog of a sleeplessness to deal with.

After breakfast I rode The Mule six miles to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. The park is bisected by the massive Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Beneath the bridge was the starting point for the Washington Area Bicyclists Association Sweet Ride. I had chosen to do the 50-mile route despite the fact that the registration page warned that it was “a challenge” because it included 2,654 feet of climbing.

I have issues with climbing. Basically, I stink at it. I could get better if I rode up hills with some regularity, but my thinking is: why ruin a nice ride with pain?

The Sweet Ride route was merciful for the first ten miles, following flat streets and trails in Alexandria and Arlington before using the Mount Vernon Trail for a mile-long spin along the Potomac River.

Alas, the MVT ends at a switchback climb to the Martha Custis Trail. The Custis (nobody calls it the MCT for some reason) climbs out of the Rosslyn neighborhood for a mile or so. Then the “challenging” part begins.

The next nine miles traverses scenic (check out the landscaping, see the pretty Arts and Crafts McMansions) North Arlington. The hills seemed to go up forever until they plunged down to a stop sign, stealing riders of their reward for all that hard work going up. I was glad I had chosen The Mule for this event because it is equipped with a tiny granny gear that I purchased to climb over Monarch Pass in Colorado in 2019.

I stopped at a pit stop to refill a water bottle and say hello to Kristin, WABA’s development and acting managing director. I seem to see her only when I am zonked from riding. In any case it was the first time I’d seen her since 2019 so I didn’t mind the zonked part. That is until she said there would be more climbing in the miles ahead.

And there was.

Thank the gods for granny gears.

At least the neighborhoods were interesting and the traffic was light. At mile 10, I arrived on the Custis Trail again. This led to a somewhat confusing meander through the Ballston area. I briefly lived in this area in the mid to late 1980s. I proposed to my wife at the miniature golf course and took my sister for her first Mexican food meal at a tiny place in a small wood framed shop. Those places are gone, replaced by fancy townhouses and mid rise apartment and office buildings.

Most of the riders I encountered during the event were using GPS cue sheets. I am old school and had a paper cue sheet attached to my handlebars. I couldn’t keep up with the mod crowd because I had to stop and turn the page of my cue sheet booklet from time to time. Also, I am old and slow.

We connected to the Bluemont Trail which I haven’t ridden in 25 years. This led to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail which was packed with families enjoying the lovely weather. In short order I pulled into the pit stop in Bluemont Park where I was greeted by old friend, Ursula, another WABA person, and generally all around great human. Once again this was my first time seeing her since 2019.

I briefly chatted with a man named Adam who kidded me that he thought I should be riding “out in Montana somewhere.” For the life of me, I have no idea how he knew who I was. My broken fusiform gyrus once again was paying me a visit.

Just before I was to begin riding again, Ed Felkerino, randonneur extraordinaire and co-founder of Friday Coffee Club, appeared at my side as if out of the ether. We chatted briefly, He wasn’t doing the event, just out for a bike stroll, probably headed for Cafe Amouri in Vienna. Yet another person from the before times. Maybe if this keeps up I’ll start to feel less pandemicy sometime soon.

I rolled away on the W&OD to the city of Falls Church where the route wandered past all kinds of smaller but finely designed homes. By this point, my landscaping envy was through the roof. How the heck do these people get such awesome hydrangeas, enormous bushes with blossoms that look like cotton candy. Mine just dry out and die no matter how much I water them.

After a five-minute wait to cross six lanes of US 50, scourge of my ride across Nevada, I found myself in the Lake Barcroft section of Fairfax County. Dang this is nice! I don’t think I had ever been through this area. Rolling hills and curving roads, not to mention the lake, made me not care too much about my now-all-but-dead legs.

Out of Lake Barcroft, the route traversed Bailey’s Crossroads and dropped onto the Holmes Run Trail. The last time I had used this entrance to the trail was in the Hoppy 100 ride. We descended to the trailhead in an absolute deluge. The trial runs along and across Holmes Run (run means creek in Virginia-speak). The downpour had caused the run to flood but we rode through the waters without harm. Today, without a recent downpour, some of the crossings were closed, evidence that this well intentioned trail is a bit of a mess.

The cue sheet said to take a left but it wasn’t clear to me that the left was the one that was directly in front of me or further on. I chose the latter and was wrong. I came out of Holmes Run about a quarter mile south of the route. The Google helped me remedy my error and I was back on track on the streets of Alexandria.

After a couple of easy miles, the streets led back to the Holmes Run Trail where I found the final pit stop, staffed by Anna, WABA’s events coordinator. The only time I ever seem to meet Anna is at pit stops, She’s now officially Pit Stop Anna. Anna informed me that the route has nearly the same elevation gain as the 50 States Ride. It sure felt like it but the 50 States gains about 3,041 feet in 60 miles compared to the 2,654 for this 50-mile ride. On a per mile basis, however, the Sweet Ride gains 53 feet of elevation per mile compared to 50 feet per mile for 50-States.

Anna is soon to be named WABA’s statistics coordinator.

The next several miles were along the trail and completely flat Eisenhower Avenue. I took a left on Mill Road and realized that the next few steps on the cue sheet didn’t work. Hmm. About a mile later I came to realize that Mill Road forms a U, curving back to Eisenhower; I had turned too soon.

No worries. I was now in the Carlyle neighborhood, familiar turf. The route took me up the final hill of the ride, a roughly mile-long incline on King Street headed west. I normally find this climb frustrating because it looks easy but it wears you out with its length. By this point though my legs didn’t much care. I just lowered my torso over the top tube, relaxed my arms and spun away.

The climb was followed by a lovely, curving downhill on Valley Drive through the Park Fairfax neighborhood. This led to the Four Mile Run Trail and blissful level ground. I took Commonwealth Avenue across Del Ray then continued through Old Town back to Jones Point Park.

At the finish, my starting place was now a pit stop for riders who had begun their ride at a second starting point five miles away in Crystal City. The stop was staffed by my friend Monica who seemed elated to learn that I was not passing through but had just finished the route. I was about to ride home when she asked me whether I wanted a vegan, vegetarian, or chicken lunch, I had forgotten that lunch was included in the registration fee.

The food came from Nandos. Lord did it hit the spot. This was the best ride food on a WABA ride in a long time. The grub included a wrap, a bag of chips, a brownie, and a Capri Sun. Sugary drinks taste like champagne after a long slog on a bike.

Other goodies for riders included a bandana with the pattern used on the cue sheet above and a black drawstring bag from Nandos.

After lunch it was time to call it a day. I rode the six miles home on autopilot. I arrived home weary and ready to watch the end of the Nats game on TV, (They won 5-0.)

This was my first Sweet Ride. I missed the first three because of bike tours and the pandemic. Today’s ride makes WABA’s return to more or less normal ride protocols. Aside from masks being worn at pit stops, this seemed like old times.

A final note: I wore my blue 2014 50-states ride shirt today. That year I did a ride with a bunch of 50-States rookies. One of those rookies, my friend Emilia, completed the ride with defective gearing. She didn’t have her lowest gears but managed to ride the distance anyway. (She rode it again with a properly geared bike and kicked my butt.) She proudly held up her shirt at the finish party. I call the shirt my Emilia shirt.

Emilia, who is normally the picture of health, recently had a medical emergency. She posted a couple of pictures on social media of her in a wheel chair. I was pretty upset to see her like this. (It serves me right because I have posted pictures of me in states of medical duress in the past which have resulted in reprimands from friends and family.) After a few days, she contacted me and said she is home from the hospital and on the mend. Get well soon, amiga. The 50-States Ride is in three months!

One Way on the WOD

I’ve really been cooking with gas on my bikes lately. It always takes me a few months after winter departs to get my mechanics working right, but the last week I’ve been riding like a boss. After ten consecutive days of riding over 30 miles a day, I popped a 52 mile ride on my Surly CrossCheck. My route took me up to DC where I rode up Rock Creek Park to Bethesda. After a couple of miles of connecting roads, I hooked up with the Capital Crescent Trail for the return. Beach Drive. the main drag through Rock Creek Park, is closed to through auto traffic in the upper half of the park. This is a positive pandemic dividend. I hope the National Park Service continues this policy because it’s a beautiful ride.

Near the end of yesterday’s ride, the CrossCheck hit 20,000 miles. As is my practice, I am now switching over to other bikes for a while.

Today, The Mule got the call. My wife and daughter drove me out to Purcellville, Virginia where the Washington and Old Dominion (WOD) trail has its western terminus. I bid them farewell and headed for home.

The WOD is about 45 miles long. (A few detours here and there add about a half mile by my odometer). Since it starts at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains the ride loses about 545 feet along the way. The decline isn’t constant, but there are long stretches of gradual downhill that allow for riding at a respectable clip.

A couple of hundred feet from the start of the ride I noticed that my riding position on The Mule is much less aggressive than my position on the CrossCheck. I decided to try an experiment. I adjusted the tilt of the saddle down just a bit. At first it felt strange to have additional weight on my hands. And my butt seemed to have been raised much more than it actually was. After about three miles, I didn’t notice the difference at all and I seemed to have much better power transmission to the pedals.

Dang was I riding fast. I think I had about a 2 mile per hour increase in cruising speed.

To be honest, making a tweak to your riding position before riding 50 miles is not a particularly good idea. But for me. it work out okay.

The more I rode, the more my body liked the new position. Cruising along at 20 miles per hour is not at all normal for me. I blasted through a tunnel of green for ten miles before stopping at Leesburg for a Mule photo op.

As I rode the din from the Brood X, 17-year cicadas was my constant companion. From time to time I heard other summer bugs such as the annual cicadas. The Brood X sound is a low pitched drone coming from the tree tops; the annual bugs make a higher pitched sound that seems to be only a few feet over your head.

The best part of the WOD is the ten miles from Purcellville to Leesburg. After that, development encroaches on the trail corridor. For those of us who remember when much of this area of the corridor was farm land, this change in scenery is a bit depressing.

It is what it is so you just keep rolling along. I past a few turtles in the Ashburn. Later I east of Vienna I saw a deer eating grass on the fringe of the trail. No worries.

Trail traffic was light probably because of severe weather that had raised the humidity noticeably since yesterday.

I booked along through Sterling and Herndon and Reston. Vienna came and went as did Falls Church where some major trail work caused a half mile on-street detour. It brought to mind the fact that I have very little idea what this area looks like beyond eye sight of the trail corridor.

I ran out of WOD in Arlington and stopped for a couple of other photos, one of the trail sign and the other of the Weenie Beenie, an Arlington culinary institution for decades.

With the WOD conquered. I switched to the Four Mile Run Trail which took me three miles further east to the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport. Turning south on the MVT, I made honest work of the last nine miles. My pace had slowed but by this point my brain had shut down and The Mule and I were on autopilot. Every few miles I had that how-did-I-get-here feeling.

Did I just ride 110 miles in two days? Why am I not crippled? A month ago I would have sworn that my 65-year-old body couldn’t stand a bike tour anymore. Now, it’s telling me “You still got it, kid.”

A Lot Can Happen in 61 Miles

Today was my first ride over 60 miles since the last week of September. It was also my 19th day in a row of riding and 11 days in a row with over 30 miles. My weapon of choice was Big Nellie, my long wheelbase recumbent.

My travels took me about 30 miles northwest to Potomac Village, Maryland. Along the way I passed Old Town Alexandria, a decommissioned power plant, National Airport, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Kennedy Center, the Georgetown waterfront, historic Glen Echo Park, and a series of neighborhoods that grew posher by the mile. So many gorgeous houses. So much stellar landscaping. A suburban aspirant’s wet dream.

Along the way on the Capital Crescent Trail I spotted a sure sign of spring in DC. A dozen or more cormorants were perched in leafless trees overhanging the Potomac River. They wait there to pick off bass that are swimming upstream to spawn.

For a couple of miles I rode the rolling hills past the famous golf course of Congressional Country Club. This course has hosted four grand slam events since 1964. I haven’t played golf since the Nixon administration but I know an elite course when I see one. Dang.

At Potomac Village I turned back toward the river on Falls Road. After a ten minute break to devour a peanut buttered bagel, I rode the winding, wooded downhill on MacArthur Boulevard, north out of Great Falls Park. On a recumbent this is pure street luge.

Lunch stop

I re-traced my route back to Georgetown. Along the Capital Crescent Trail I was startled by a beefy looking hawk that swooped down in front of me and cruised about 15 feet above the path until it flapped its wings and climbed up through the trees and back toward the river.

All day I was seeing vultures surfing the winds, turning long graceful arcs as they searched for carrion to feed on. Vultures are so beautiful in flight and so ugly up close. At one point I spotted an enormous vulture doing its acrobatics along the river bank near the power plant. It was being shadowed by a much smaller vulture, a young one learning the tricks of the trade.

One advantage of riding a recumbent is the heads up riding position. You see so much more than when riding a conventional bike. Near Dyke Marsh I searched the trees for the bald eagle nest near Belle View Boulevard. Before I saw the nest, I saw a huge bald eagle perched high in a tree. It was standing guard over the massive nest immediately below it in a crotch in the tree. Pity the squirrel that gets too close to that nest.

My legs were pretty well spent when I arrived at home. 61 miles in the books.

When I went in the house and walked downstairs my left knee gave me a stabbing pain and buckled. Oops.

Maybe I should take a day off.

Nah.

Bridges and Blood

After completing my bicycling goals for the year, I decided to do some volunteering things. I haven’t done much volunteering mostly because my last several volunteering gigs were not a lot of fun. For example, there was the time I volunteered to staff a Bike-to-Work Day pit stop 1.5 miles from my house. It ended up involving 90+ miles of bicycling over three days to fetch and return handouts from an advocacy organization.

My volunteering gig this month was to help scrub the gunk off a wooden bridge on the Mount Vernon Trail. This effort is being spearheaded by the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail. The National Park Service of the U. S. Department of Interior owns and is supposed to maintain the trail but they have been grossly underfunded for many years. One needs only visit East and West Potomac Parks in DC to see evidence of this. There’s the collapsing sea wall that lines the Tidal Basin and Hains Point for a start. Then there is the Jefferson Memorial jersey barrier farm. A security perimeter was put in after 9/11 but they ran out of money to put in proper, permanent protection (as they did with the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument) so the Jefferson Memorial is surrounded by jersey barriers. America, if you want nice things, you have to pay for them.

End of rant.

The Friends have been working on removing kudzu that was obstructing sightlines on a bridge in Alexandria. Other efforts, more like the one that I volunteered for, involved clearing the gunk from wooden bridges on the trial in Alexandria and Arlington in preparation for the application of grip paint. (That appears to be what it is actually called.) The paint hopefully will keep bicyclists on the trail and out of the emergency room.

My first MVT bridge crash was on what is now called Bridge Number 1. This is the bridge closest to the Mount Vernon terminus of the trail. (There used to be a bridge even closer but it was so dangerous, the Congress ponied up money to re-route the bridge after the wife of a senator crashed on it. That same bridge also claimed Mrs. Rootchopper as a victim.)

Bridge Number 1 took me out in 1989. I suffered a smashed bike, a dislocated left knee cap, and a cut on my left forearm that went to the bone. Gross.

So volunteering for this effort was a no brainer. Plus it was only three miles from home. I think we did about 2 hours of work and one hour of portaging the tools and water in large heavy bladders to the bridge which was 1/2 mile from the nearest parking lot. Thankfully, the younger volunteers carried the water.

I applied oxygen bleach and scrubbed it in. A power washer was used to finish things off. The power washing was a bit of a Rube Goldberg affair. Water was poured into a multi-gallon bladder. Gravity pulled the water through a hose to the power washer. Somebody had to hold the bladder up. Somebody else had to constantly refill the bladder to allow for continuous operation of the power washer. Water is heavy. There was spillage. Long story short, several of us had wet pants by the end of the event.

Sam with bladder, Judd with washer, Josephine with jug for filling bladder

We did about half the bridge before we ran out of battery power. Good enough.

After three days of low mileage cycling, I took today off. Today was also the day our housecleaning service came so my wife and I cleared out. Normally, we go to a diner for breakfast but lately we haven’t been all that interested in biscuits and Covid so we both went over to the Bloodmobile at the hospital down the street and donated blood. My wife has donated gallons over the years but today was my first time. Other than some annoying administrative glitches the donation went smoothly.

I’ll do anything for a t-shirt

We each received a festive t-shirt that gives ugly Christmas sweaters a run for their money.

If you’d like to help with the Mount Vernon Trail efforts, you can make a donation here or sign up to volunteer here.

My next volunteering effort will involve removal of cookies and fudge from our kitchen. Something has to be done.

Happy holidays.

It Gets Harder at the Finish

In marathon running, the race is 26.2 miles long. The half way point is at 20 miles. That’s when the bear jumps on your back.

Riding 10,000 miles in a year has some resemblance. It seems the last 200 miles are going to have some challenges.

A New Route

We had terrific weather over the last three days so I banged out 111 miles. I discovered a new 41-mile out-and back ride that has lots to offer. It follows the Potomac Heritage Trail to Fort Washington National Park.

I ride 5 miles to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Then I go over the bridge and down a fun spiral ramp that takes me further down to a cove near National Harbor. Just before the harbor, I turn east through a corrugated steel tunnel and climb a half mile past the MGN casino complex and up Oxon Hill.

At the top, I bang a right on Oxon Hill Road and ride through three roundabouts. They do a good job of calming traffic and they make you feel like a little kid for some reason. Whee! There is an bike lane, sometimes protected, often with glass and other debris. (Not the greatest design but at least a B+ for effort.) After my rotary service, I take a right on Fort Foote Road for three miles of rolling suburb. This takes me back to Oxon Hill Road. A right turn begins a fast descent off the hill to Livingston Road where I take a right. This road isn’t very pleasant but I’m only on it for a mile or so when I take a another right onto Fort Washington Road. A half mile later the PHT turns right on Riverview Road for a tour of a pretty fine suburban neighborhood. Many of the homes face the Potomac River. (There are a few big houses down long access drives. I think they are safe houses or owned by mobsters. Feel free to check this out on your own.) I go past a marina and over Swan Creek.

Next it’s time for some golf. The PHT winds through a golf-based development for another mile or so before returning to Fort Washington Road where two short but challenging climbs bring me to the gates of Fort Washington Park. I ride to the fort and, if I am in the mood, take some time to check out the view of the river. (Fort Washington is directly across the river from Fort Hunt. Riders on the Mount Vernon Trail can get a good look at it.)

After reaching the fort, I retrace my steps. There are only a couple of nasty hills, one leaving the park, and one going back up Oxon Hill.

Beware the MVT

On Sunday I did my 35-mile route up to the Arlington Triangle, and back. About 26 miles of this ride are on trails. The 60-degree weather brought out all kinds of people making the ride truly annoying. Twice I came to a dead stop because traffic backed up behind a slow mover. Then there were the people who stopped and chatted on the trail. (Lovely day. Look at all the bikes. Those riders look upset. Can’t imagine why.) Must not kill. And there was the one guy walking his dog with a friend. He decided to do a crazy Ivan (a quick, no-look turn around into oncoming traffic). Something told me to be ready. Good thing I had my hands on my brakes.

I have come to expect that trail users who are chatting as they go filter out audible warnings from passing riders. That’s what happened in this case. I just missed taking Ivan out. He said he was sorry. Would have been a lot sorrier if I hadn’t been paying attention.

In Rosslyn I passed the site of a hotel implosion earlier in the day. It was an immense pile of rubble. I pulled over to the left to take a picture from the side of the trail. A pathlete zoomed by me without warning. I yelled “Passing on your left!” sarcastically.

Later the ride included getting stuck behind seven riders going at a crawl. (Try passing seven bikes at the same time.) During the delay we came to a cluster of people blocking the trail. It was a group of seven walkers. Three were blocking the left lane. Four had just crossed a busy road to our right. One of the four, a toddler, decided that now was a good time to flop on the ground and whine. With mom and dad distracted, their six year old was darting back and forth across the trail.

Once I cleared all this humanity, I found my self speeding along with a tail wind. The ride home was not half bad, except for the running of the tourists in Old Town Alexandria. The passage under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge just south of tourist central was scenic relief. (This picture was taken at the same time of day on Friday.)

Fed up with trail chaos, I left the trail and climbed the Park Terrace hill. This beast is exactly 20 yards higher than my legs will go. I stood and pounded away at the pedals. My thighs felt like they were on fire. All I had to do was to get past the parked Volvo at the top. Not gonna happen. I had to sit and use my granny. Dang.

The End of the Line

Today featured cold rain. We’re back to December. The last 100 miles will be tough. Tomorrow I’ll ride in 40- degree weather. I don’t wanna! Then we expect snow for Wednesday. After that I’ll pick and choose my last three days of cold riding. Temps will top out around 40 for the remainder of the week. Nothing like having a polar bear on your back.

Barring a catastrophe (don’t laugh, it happened three years ago), I should be at 10,000 miles by Sunday or Monday. On Saturday, I am joining the indefatigable Judd Lumberjack who is organizing volunteer work crews to do maintenance on the Mount Vernon Trail. Our assignment is to clean and nail down boards on infamous Bridge No. 1. I crashed on this bridge about 30 years ago. I cut my arm to the bone, dislocated my left knee, and nearly destroyed my bike. Vengeance will be mine.

Next up, on December 23, I am going to the Bloodmobile down the street to donate blood. Maybe I can throw them a clot or two. In all seriousness, I am ashamed to say that I’ve never donated before. I picked a good time to donate because I think they give a covid antibody test to all donors. Can bears get covid? Seems only fair.

Rock Creek Parking

One of the very best things about living in the DC area is Rock Creek Park, a wooden canyon right down the middle of the city from north to south.

When I first moved to DC I signed up for a 10-mile road race in the park. It began at Carter Barron Amphitheater on the eastern rim in the middle of the park. I was unfamiliar with the park’s topography so I attacked the course with confidence. The course went down into the park then up the other side then down into the park then up the other side then down into the park… You get the picture. I was trashed at the finish.

Mostly I use the park for bike riding on the weekends when the main north-south road, Beach Drive, is closed to cars. I ride the Mount Vernon Trail to Georgetown where I pick up the Capital Crescent Trail. This paved trail takes me gradually uphill to Bethesda, Maryland. Then I ride east a few miles east before turning south into the park. For the next ten miles it’s gently downhill. The road follows the creek as it winds its way back to Georgetown.

The National Park Service operates the park. A few years ago they repaved Beach Drive. The smooth pavement makes for a sweet ride.

This time of year is the best time to ride in the park. The angle of the sun is low. The trees are turning. Leaves are falling like snow flakes. And the cool temperatures mean that you don’t end up a dehydrated mess (which is pretty par for the course around here in the summer.)

The park was quite busy today. I saw dozens of families with little kids picnicking near the creek, biking on the road, and hiking the trails.

Today, for the first time, I decided to ride with the big dogs. Normally, I get off the road near Pierce Mill, a mile or so north of the National Zoo. From here south, cars are allowed on the roadway. Today, however, I stayed on the road all the way to Georgetown. Traffic was light and the downhill grade helped me maintain 18 to 20 miles per hour.

About halfway to Georgetown, Beach Drive widens from two to four lanes. No worries. The light Sunday traffic left me with a lane all to myself for about two miles.

At the K Street overpass, cars were backed up from a traffic light near the Watergate complex. I diverted to the side path to avoid the wait. As I did I saw a tall red-headed woman running toward me. She looked familiar and sure enough it was my physical therapist. I didn’t ID her until just as I was passing her. She didn’t recognize me because she was focused on getting across an intersection without being hit by cars, scooters, bikes, runners, baby strollers, etc. Also, between my helmet, sunglasses, and Buff, my own mother could not have identified me.

The 15-mile ride home along the Potomac River was pretty splendid, even with a headwind. Having taken yesterday off from the bike, I managed to ride 51 miles today without the least bit of difficulty.

Time for a nap.

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.

White’s Ferry Loop

One of the long rides I try to do every year is the White’s Ferry Loop. This ride links up several trails in the DC are for a 90-mile circuit. Including the 9 1/2 miles to the loop from my house brings the total mileage to 99. Typically, I add a mile somewhere along the way for the full century.

I chose to ride clockwise because the forecast called for heat and humidity. This would put me on the shaded C&O Canal towpath for the hottest part of the day.

I boogied along for 23 miles taking streets and two trails (see below) before stopping at the Vienna train station building to refill a water bottle. Then I was back on the W&OD Trail all the way to Leesburg, about 47 miles from home. Whenever I could I topped off my water botlles. To be on the safe side, I carried five bottles, two on the bike and three in a pannier. I also brought snacks. Peanut butter on bread, pretzel sticks, and a couple of old chewy granola bars.

I rode on King Street through Leesburg, which had many tempting places to eat. In fact, if you stopped at every microbrewery along the way you’d pass out before the ferry.

North of Leesburg is the sketchy connection to US 15, a busy north south highway. I lucked out as there were no cars coming. The highway has a big shoulder along this part (because bicyclists were hit and killed several times in years gone by).

After a half mile , I turned onto Whites Ferry Road for another 1/2 mile of quiet country road to the ferry. If cars are coming toward you, you can take your time, because the ferry is crossing back to Maryland. I arrived at the ferry and waited in the shade for the trip back. As ferry trips go, this one is pretty calm. It only takes five minutes.

The store on the Virginia side is up an embankment. The exterior of the building has marks with dates next to them showing the high water marks for major flood events. Suffice it to say, Hurricane Agnes did a number on this river valley back in the early 70s.

After some ice cream, Gatorade, and a port-a-potty break I headed south on the C&O Canal towpath. The double track of the past is gone, replaced with an unpaved smooth surface. For five miles, that is, until it’s back to the bumps. Riding a recumbent means you feel every bump because you cannot easily lift your butt off the seat.

Near Seneca Creek the towpath is muddy. I was slipping and sliding but I didn’t fall.

From time to time, I saw deer, squirrels, herons, and large ominous looking birds. Mostly I was just trucking along and enjoying the shade. I particular like the sections where you can see the river with all the large rocks randomly poking above the water line and the places where the canal is filled with water and bordered by ominous rock walls.

After 32 miles I switched back to pavement on the Capitol Crescent Trail. This brought welcome relief to my back. The bumpy towpath was messing with my stenosis and I was constantly dealing with achy feet and an achy butt.

The CCT leads to the nifty Water Street cycletrack which connects to a side path that runs past the Watergate and the Kennedy Center along the Potomac River. After passing the Lincoln Memorial I switched over to Ohio Drive, which is the epicenter of the Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring.

At the Jefferson Memorial, I crossed over the river on the 14th Street Bridge which connects to the Mount Vernon Trail and the 12-mile ride home.

All aboard!
Waiting for the ferry
Imagine water well above the treetops. It happens every so often
The White’s Ferry Store serves food and sells snacks.
Groomed towpath is a big improvement
Rocks in the river
Cliffs, canal, towpath
Little Falls Dam northwest of DC

Here’s a cue sheet. Most people just do the loop starting and ending at Step 3.

  1. Three Miles of suburban streets to the Mount Vernon Trail
  2. Mount Vernon Trail north 6 1/2 miles through Old Town Alexandria to Four Mile Run Trail.
  3. Four Mile Run Trail west 3 miles to the W&OD Trail
  4. W&OD Trail 35 miles to South King Street in Leesburg
  5. Right on South King to US 15 north of town, about 3 miles
  6. US 15 to a right on Whites Ferry Road, 1/2 mile
  7. White’s Ferry Road 1/2 mile to the ferry
  8. Ferry across Potomac ($2)
  9. Go 100 yards up the hill on the Virginia side
  10. Take a right on the C&O Canal towpath and ride 32 miles to Thompson’s Boat House
  11. Switch to paved Capital Crescent Trail and Water Street in Georgetown for 3 miles
  12. Right onto Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway path to Ohio Drive (1 mile)
  13. Ohio Drive to 14th Street Bridge (1/2 mile)
  14. Cross bridge to Mount Vernon Trail (1/2 mile)
  15. Take a right on the trail. Go 9 miles.
  16. Re-trace suburban streets home. 3 miles.

Finally, if you do this ride, bring water and snacks. There are pumps along the towpath but these may be turned off. Also, the National Park Service treats the water with iodine. The store at White’s Ferry has limited hours so I assume it’s closed. On this day it was open.

Greetings from Elbownia

Here at the Rootchopper Institute we’re social distancing our butts off. Of course, my preferred SD method is to ride my bike alone. I’ve been grinding away at it for nine days in a row. Rather than getting worn out, I’ve been getting stronger. This is exactly what happens on a bike tour. It makes no sense either on tour or at home but it is what it is.

Yesterday’s ride took me over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, down the corkscrew ramp on the Maryland side, and up the long hill past the casino complex to Oxon Hill Road. From there I made my way into DC via the streets of Anacostia. I rode past the derelict buildings of Saint Elizabeths (no apostrophe) Hospital and down MLK Jr. Boulevard. Eventually, I made it to the Anacostia River and took the Anacostia River Trail to Benning Road. There I crossed over to the west side of the river, rode south between the river and the rotting hulk of RFK Stadium all the way to the Navy Yard. Soon I was passing Nationals Park, Audi Field (soccer), and the Wharf eventually making it down to Hains Point to check out the not-ready-for-prime-time cherry blossoms. (I did managed to shag three golf balls from the rusty spring hackers on East Potomac Yard course.) Then it was up the Potomac River past the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, across the Memorial Bridge to the Mount Vernon Trail and back home. A nice 43-mile spin in 70-degree temperatures.

Today’s ride was a recovery ride. I made it six miles, nearly to Old Town Alexandria, before I realized that I had forgotten my water bottles. I used the Wilkes Street tunnel to turn back home. On the way I passed my local bike store. The plan had been for the store to re-open in March, but from the looks of things it’s going to be quite some time before that happens.

Within a mile or two of this bike shop there have been two other large fires in the last month. And sometime in the last few months a hotel was struck by lightning. Coincidence?

After fetching my water bottles I made my way down to Mount Vernon, home and burial place of George and Martha Washington. I can’t remember the last time I saw it closed, but such are the “circumstances” these days.

My ride home took me to Route 1. As I waited at the traffic light I took note of the remarkable fall in gasoline prices since the financial and commodity markets went haywire.

There were long lines at this station and the one next door. Of course, the handles on the pumps may be a fine place for the Covid-19 virus to hang out but you take your chances when you can save 40 cents a gallon.

The ride home was brisk. I don’t know what got into my legs lately but I was accelerating up small rises in the road and I didn’t have a tailwind.

After the ride, I spent 20 minutes scraping loose paint from an exterior wall on the house. During dinner, I had a slight and very brief twinge of nerve pain in my lower right back. Oddly, this is good news. I am scheduled to have a new kind of injection in my lower back on Monday, but I haven’t had the slightest bit of pain in six days. Tomorrow I go on a six-mile hike. If that doesn’t bring about some serious pain in my back or my left leg, I am declaring myself cured and cancelling the injection.

Now if only I could do the same for the coronavirus. I guess I’ll just have to keep bumping elbows for a while longer.

A Walk to the Morningside Nest

Bike riding is excellent exercise. It has one shortcoming; it is not weight bearing. After 150 miles of bike commuting, I could use a little change of pace. Today, I decided to go for a long walk.

The Morningside bald eagle nest on the Mount Vernon Trail is about 2 1/2 or 3 miles from my house. Off I went with my hiking boots on. Even with the brisk pace I set, things move by so slowly compared to cycling. For that matter, things more slowly compared to distance running. I arrived at the nest eventually. I call it the Morningside nest because it is situated on the Mount Vernon Trail across from the Morningside Drive exit from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Morningside Nest

This time of year, when the trees have no leaves, the nest is relatively easy to spot. In a couple of months it will be almost completely obscured by green. The nest is in a tree that is about 30 yards from the trail. I brought my Canon EOS Rebel camera with a decent zoom lens. I was hoping to see an eagle at the nest but that didn’t happen so I took a picture or two of the nest and walked on. Not 100 feet later I spotted an eagle about 100 yards away, perched in a tree beyond the nest tree at the waterline of the river. (You can’t call it a riverbank here because the Potomac is tidal here; the river’s edge varies quite a lot.)

Thanks to the zoom lens on the camera I actually was able to get a semi-decent picture of the eagle. As soon as I snapped the pic, the eagle launched and headed downriver.
I kept walking and spotted a big woodpecker, maybe 12 inches in length, working on a distressed tree. I tried to get a picture but, not being at the top of the food chain, he flew off as soon as he spotted me.

Morningside Resident Bald Eagle

I continued walking to the Dyke Marsh bridge then reversed course. I took a few more pics of the nest. Now with a blue sky in the background I thought I could get a better picture.

Morningside Nest

I waited for the eagle to return but after 15 minutes I gave up and headed for home. Being used to covering my route home by bike the walk seemed interminable. It didn’t help much that my bum left knee was sending electric shocks into my leg every few minutes.

Despite the knee zaps, I made it home with the feeling that I had redeemed my weekend of couch surfing.  It will be interesting to see how my legs feel when I saddle up for the ride to work in the morning

The pix are here.