My Ride to the Star Destroyer

It was supposed to be a flat recovery ride. I got a bit carried away. Within a mile and a half I was riding up the hill on Sherwood Hall Lane. Then I rode up the grade on Fort Hunt Road, descended and rode another hill past the golf course to the Beltway.

Okay, I’ll be good. I’ll ride the new Alexandria bike trail all the way to Crystal City.

It was flat. So I continued on to the Pentagon.

It, too, was flat.

I worked my way over to the Mount Vernon Trail and the Humpback Bridge, mostly because the Humpback Bridge sounds cool.

Over the river on the 14th Street Bridge and up Maine Avenue past the incredibly big Wharf construction project. First phase set to open in 2017. Yes, it’s that big.

M Street took me to the 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia. Whoever decided to put a bike path on this thing is a frickin’ genius. (Is “frickin'” even a word?)

Now the fun begins: the long slog up Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. If this is junior, I don’t want to know about senior. I had multiple flashbacks to my seven 50 States Rides during which I admired the fit behinds of all the riders who can climb faster than me. Which is to say every entrant ever!

One thing I noticed during my climb, it matters what pants you wear. Pants that are tight around the hips make it harder to climb. Today I wore loose mountain bike shorts under baggy wind pants. Claudio Chiapucci I ain’t but the climbing was not so bad.

It goes up and up. Then it goes down conveniently stopping at South Capitol Street so that all that downhill momentum is lost. Then up some more for a while until I plunge down the steep hill to the Police Academy complex. Every time I see the sign for Police Academy I think of the dreadful movie. At least it had Bubba Smith in it.

Of course at the bottom of the hill there was a stop sign. I stopped. A police cruiser noticed and gave me a friendly toot on the horn. (Take note Alexandria Virginia Police!! You don’t have to treat cyclists like criminals.)

What goes down must go up. After a meander through the messed up Oxon Cove Park I confronted the beast. I don’t mean this apparent imperial star destroyer under construction. (It’s a trap!)

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Side note: Oxon Cove Park could be a local jewel. It has the misfortune of being located in a poor, out of the way section of Prince Georges County Maryland. The few people who live near it rarely use it. What a shame.

The beast was the long, ever steepening climb at Oxon Hill Farm. I HATE this hill. It starts with the indignity of a false flat. Then a true hill emerges in front of you. And emerges and emerges.

I made it to the top without calling for my mommy.

Across the Beltway on Oxon Hill Road and down the side path to the river. Up the spiral ramp (I love this spiral) to the deck and back across the Beltway. Somehow I now had legs and rode over the Wilson Bridge actually accelerating as I made the climb.

I headed home on the Mount Vernon Trail but after a few miles I bailed out to take on one more hill: Westgrove Boulevard, as suburban street that also steepens as it rises.

Mommy!!!

Okay, I made it. In pretty decent fettle. I made my way back home once again riding up the Sherwood Hall Lane hill. For the life of me I can’t figure out why riding up the steeper part going west is so easy. I just thrash it every time.

So 31 1/2 miles. On a rest day. When I couldn’t help myself. If it rains tomorrow, I spy a museum. (If I get out of bed.)

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.

We’re Going to Pay for This, I Fear

The weather gods gave us some nearly springlike temperatures today. And no howling winds either. It was the real deal. 50+ degrees and sun.

I took Big Nellie out for a spin. I had no place to go. So I went there. I buzzed over to Fort Hunt Park, rode the 1 1/4 circuit and then headed north parallel to the Mount Vernon Trail. People were out and about. Kids were riding their Christmas bikes. Every other little boy said, “Cool bike!” as I rode past. (In a few years they’ll be saying, “Dork!”)

On a whim I headed over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Maryland. The trail was crowded with walkers making their way toward Alexandria. The best part of the bridge is the spiral ramp on the Maryland side. Riding this on a recumbent induces glee.

On another whim, I decided to ride up to Oxon Hill Road. It’s a long steady grind but I made it without coughing up a lung. (Yay, asthma!) Once to the summit I decided to check out OHR which has been under much needed construction for most of the year. It is not yet finished but will be much improved when the crews return in springtime. I did a loop using OHR and Fort Foote Road. After that it was back down the long hill toward the Potomac River and the Wilson Bridge. I behaved myself and kept my speed under 30 miles per hour. (With a fairing this is a 40+ mph blast.)

I rode home on the Mount Vernon Trail slaloming through the walkers, runners and cyclists. I was so focused on not hitting anyone that I completely didn’t see my friend Judy who called out to me as I rode by.

I finished the ride with a trip to the hardware store for birdseed and a padlock.

On the way home from the hardware store I rode with my jacket zipped open. It felt like 60 degrees. I fear the weather gods are setting us up for a fall.

Punked by a Stag at Indian Head

Today was the day for the Southern Maryland 100 bike ride. The ride begins and ends in Indian Head Maryland. There’s not much there but a navy installation. I’ve done the metric century (100 kilometers) several times before. It’s a lovely place to ride and only about 40 minutes from my house by car.

I rode Big Nellie today. The weather was as good as it could be for bike riding. I took a cue sheet but I didn’t need it. I just followed the green arrows on the road.

This ride is put on by the Oxon Hill Cycling Club. They do a wonderful job of staffing the rest stops with interesting food. The first stop had English muffin sandwiches with ham, eggs and salsa. Also, peanut butter sammiches!  The next stop had enthusiastic junior high (or maybe high school) kids cheering us as we rode in. Their special treat was tomato and mayo sammiches. I couldn’t resist. The last rest stop had cherry slushies and veggie sticks (sort of like potato sticks but more better).

The terrain is not very difficult. Oh, there are maybe 10 hills to climb but none of them harder than the Park Terrace hill near my home. Of course, on a recumbent, you get passed by lots of roadies going up. Going down is another story; I hit 37 miles per hour on one downhill and reached the mid-30s on the rest.  Too bad I didn’t have my fairing on.

The riders were very respectful of each other. The lycra pacelines announced their passes and gave me plenty of room. This is not the case at Backroads (my only complaint about a ride that I love).  People said “Good morning” as they passed or chatted about how nice a day it was.

I needed to get back home to take care of a few things so I didn’t socialize or hang out at the rest areas. The last big hill is called Rose Hill. Even the roadies were flagging on this one. I had stayed out of my granny gear all day, but I dropped into it on Rose Hill. I was surprised at how good my legs felt near the top. I down shifted and passed a bunch of wedgie (that’s recumbent speak for a conventional bike) riders just before the top of the hill.  After 33,998 miles, I’m starting to get the hang of this recumbent thing.

I had plenty left in the tank when I got to the finish. I could easily have ridden the century. I am downloading the cue sheet for the 100 mile ride for future use.

When I got back to my car, my rear window had been defaced, or besmirched, or disrespected. My kids attended the Maret School for high school. I have a Maret sticker on my back window, but it was covered with a sign from a Dematha person.  In nature, stags crush frogs, but in DC, FROGS RULE.

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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.