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.

Hiking Hogback

I haven’t done a hike since forever, so it was time to get my butt out to Shenandoah National Park. Thankfully, the weatherman delivered a picture perfect day.

I left at 7 am on a Saturday and the traffic gods were kind. I drove US 211 through Sperryville Va to the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive. US 211 is a beautiful drive. It reminds me of drives in West Virginia. The road climbs gradually until it gets to the Park then it twists and turns as it climbs over the Blue Ridge.

I have to make a confession at this point. I’ve lived in DC since 1984 and, until today, I’ve never driven on Skyline Drive. It’s a work of art. Easily one of the best roads I’ve ever driven on. Every couple of miles is a pull off where you can take in a breathtaking view of mountains and valleys.

I parked the car and headed into the woods, eager to take on the Hogback Mountain hike from HikingUpward.com. The undergrowth was lusher (more lush?) than I am used to which added a bit of mystery to the location of the start. I guessed right and was soon working my way to the Piney Branch Trail. The trail headed gradually downhill. After all the walking I did in Scandinavia, my legs were having no troubles negotiating the path. Piney Branch lead to a small stream which I managed to cross without immersing myself.  I turned onto the Pole Bridge trail which led to a fire road that took me back up to Skyline Drive. The warm, dry air, the gentle breeze and the green everywhere was floating my boat.

After crossing Skyline Drive I picked up the Appalachian Trail and started going up. The climb to Little Hogback overlook raised my heart rate but was not overly strenuous. The views were just fabulous. Somebody take a picture! Oh, yeah. I did.

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I ate an apple and drank some water and thank the gods for coming up with the colors green and blue.

Then I hiked over to Hogback Mountain. Over is a term of art. I hiked down a bit then started hauling my ass up. And up. And up. Switchbacks and stone steps and up. My breathing became labored but, after a few minutes, my lungs caught up and I cruised (slowly) my way to the top. The view was pretty much the same. Green, blue, rocks, farms, puffy white clouds. Ahhhh.

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After overdosing on scenery, I made my way through a stand of mountain laurel and another stand of ferns. When I die, cremate me and spread my ashes among these ferns. It was so peaceful walking through them.

The trail made its way down. Who am I to argue. I walked down with it. Soon I was back at the car with 7 1/2 miles of hiking in heaven behind me.

My pictures from today are on my Flickr page.

My only complaint about this hike is the fact that the second half of the hike takes place very close to Skyline Drive. It’s hard to lose yourself in the moment when your contemplation is interrupted by a motorcycle engine. This is a quibble though. .

Also, my co-worker Kelly asked me how difficult this hike was. Except for the climb up Hogback this one is a breeze. Most of the other hikes I’ve done in this area start low and climb to Skyline Drive. This one mostly just winds back and forth Skyline Drive so you really don’t have to work all that hard.

A Year in the Woods

This was my second year of doing day hikes. Early in the year I made a list of hikes that I wanted to do on my white board at work. I modified the list, adding three hikes that friends of mine did during the year and taking off two hikes, Bull Run Mountain and Sky Meadows, because they are in an area that is infested with ticks. (One of my coworkers contracted Lyme disease at Sky Meadows.)

Hike List 2015

As you can see I cross off quite a few hikes.

To get the year off on the right foot, I went up to Great Falls Park in Maryland and did the Billy Goat B and C trails. I had done this last summer and enjoyed the route but not the heat. This is about a six mile hike, mostly flat.  It was a good way to start the year.

For the next several months I forgot about hiking. I don’t honestly know why. When I realized that I had missed some of the year’s best hiking weather I kicked it into gear on the first weekend in June and re-visited Rock Creek Park. This time I did the Valley and West Ridge trails in a counter clockwise direction. It’s a good hike, about 10 miles or so.

It was time to get away from the city. The next weekend I found a hike online that seemed to offer some solitude. It was an out and back hike on the section of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia known as Ashby Hollow. The trail was rocky and the the ups and downs lived up to the nickname Roller Coaster. I was amazed that through hikers did this section of the trail carrying big backpacks. I saw a couple too.  More power to you folks.

I was on a roll. A luck would have it Ultrarunnergirl was looking to go for a hike in the Shenandoah National Park. We headed out to White Oak Cannon. Here, she advised me to buy a year pass to the National Park system. Great idea. We hiked up the canyon, enjoying waterfalls all the way up.  At the top of the trail we took a fire road up to Skyline Drive. At her suggestion, we hiked up the steep trail to Little Hawksbill, the highest point in the park. Hiking down beat the crap out of my legs. To get back to the start we took the Cedar Run Trail. This was a pretty trail but it was also rocky and the rocks were slippery. Ultrunnergirl’s iPhone went for a swim. She went for a rock slide near the end of the hike. This was my first non-solo hike since college. It was also my first hike in Shenandoah National Park. If you live in the mid-Atlantic and do not take advantage of this park you are really missing out.

A couple of weeks later, I headed back to the park for a hike up Little Devil Stairs.  This was pretty challenging and involved crossing and re-crossing a stream. Well worth the early wake up on a day off from work.

I took the rest of July off.

I started August with a hike on the exotically names Potomac Heritage Trail. It was not the best hike but it was close to home. Then, in mid-August, on my 60th birthday, I did the most popular hike in these parts, Old Rag. It was quite challenging. I was a bit annoyed by the rock scramble. At one point I had to wedge myself into a gap between two boulders and hike vertically, with my back against one boulder and my feet on the other. Not my style at all. The view from the summit was pretty darn nice. If you want solitude, find another hike.

In September we took a long vacation in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. We did a whole mess of walking including an easy short hike at  Kata Tjuta in the outback.

Kata Tjuta Walk

 

After returning home, I made my way back to Great Falls Park in Maryland for an easy hike along the River and Gold Mine Loop trails.  I’d done each of these before but separately.

The next week, I drove to Prince William Forest Park down near Quantico. The trails here are not very well marked so I was a bit confused as to where I was or where I was going. Nevertheless, I cobbled together a pretty successful loop hike.

My last hike (unless I get really motivated in December) combined two hikes near Harper’s Ferry. Maryland Heights and Weverton Cliff offer fantastic overlooks of the Potomac River, Harper’s Ferry and the Shenandoah River.  This was my longest hike by far. Probably about 3 miles longer than I was comfortable doing.

I am learning what I like and don’t like about hiking. I am not a big fan of rocks. I don’t like rock scrambles. Nor do I like rocky trails. I am not a big fan of fording streams either. I am afraid that I am going to turn an ankle, fall, or get soaked. Since most of my hikes are solo, any one of these would be bad news.

So that’s how I put my best foot forward this year. I hope next year that I do more hiking with friends. So if you live in DC and wanna go for a trek in the woods, I’m all ears.

What Goes Up – Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Hiking may be my new thing. If I recover from yesterday’s excursion in Shenandoah National Park.

Usually Kirstin and I ride bikes together. when we ride, I’m usually riding much slower than usual. Her name online is Ultrarunnergirl for a reason: she does long runs usually offroad. I think of this as high speed, long distance hiking. So yesterday, the hiking shoe was on the other foot as she took me to White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park for a day of hiking.

We left her place at 6:30 and drove 2 hours to the trail head. The last few miles were some of the most scenic rural roadways I’ve ever driven. (One house we drove by was named Chateau Debris by its owner. It was actually quite nice.)

18814924729_ea8ceb1647_zWe decided to hike based on how we were feeling. We headed up White Oak Canyon trail. which begins around 1,000 feet above sea level. Basically, the trail follows a stream up hill past one waterfall after the next. It’s a moderately difficult hike (for me anyway) so it took about 20 minutes for me to get into a rhythm. Kirstin took mercy on me and went at my speed. She had hiked this trail before so she knew the best places to stop and check out the scenery. And there was a lot of scenery. It’s impossible to capture this using a camera. The sounds of the water, the sun streaming through the canopy, the quiet of the woods.

Bliss.

We made it to the top of the trail and made the decision to hike the fire road up to Skyline Drive. Somehow the trail maps we had made everything look shorter and easier than it was. The fire road was long but, unlike sections of the trail, was not at all technical.

And it went up. And up.

When we reached the road we stopped to consider our options. Just the first of what would turn out to be several ultrarunning friends and acquaintences of Kirstin came bounding by. She described where she had been running/hiking and where she was about to go. Clearly she was not human.

After she left, we decided to hike the Lower Hawksbill Trail to Hawksbill overlook, the highest point in the park at nearly 4,051 feet. (As a point of reference, Old Rag is 3,268 feet.)

It went up. It was relentlessly steep. We were soaked in sweat from the muggy air. And we made it. The overlook provided spectacular views to the north and northwest. Farmland. trees, mountains and towns for miles and miles. A cloud bank was drifting in from the northeast adding dramatic contrast to the view.

View from #lowerhawksbill #hiking #shenandoahnationalpark

We stayed at the summit for twenty minutes or so then started down.

Did I say down?

And down.

My legs had grown accustomed to the uphill which allowed me to use my bicycle quads and butt. Going down was all about beating the crap out of my legs to essentially stop me from careening and tumbling to a rocky face plant. Speaking of rocky, except for the fire road, these trails can make for difficult footing so you have to be mindul of not turning an ankle.

Once we made it to Skyline Drive we quickly decided to use the Cedar Run trial to hike back to the car. Kirstin remembered this as a relatively boring, non-technical trail. As it turned out, after about 1/2 mile of easy going it tuned into quite a difficult trail, mostly because it was really rocky.

As the humidity climbed, the rocks became slippery, much more slippery than they appeared to be. My feet slipped from time to time. Once requirng and awkward twisting of my torse to recover my footing. This is not good for someone with a history of back problems. Fortunately my back didn’t seem to mind.

Later I stepped on some slippery rocks than made both my feet slide out. I caught my backwards fall with one hand before my butt hit the ground. Graceful am I.

The rest of the hike down took much longer than either of us expected. As our legs tired, the constant pounding and carefull foot placement made for rough going. We stopped to admire an owl in a tree. I couldn’t get a decent picture of it. Kirstin might have but at our next stop her iPhone fell into a swiming hole. After retrieving it she went in for a soak. I took my shoes off and walked in a foot or two. The water was so cold my feet went numb.

We trucked on, somewhat surprised that in order to go down weDSCN4011_1128 occassionally had to climb some pretty steep short bits.

We came to the waterslide. Some of Kirstin’s untrapeeps were having a blast sliding down the big rock face in the creek into a pool of frigid water. I had done this on the Ausable River in the Adirondacks and hurt my tail bone so I took a pass. Kirstin gave it a go. She tried to wave and her body twisted awkwardly. No worries she splashed down without a problem.

As we hiked the last 1/2 mile or so, visions of ice cold beer danced in our heads. Kirstin kept laughing because the distances seemed so much farther than the map indicated. When it was all said and done, we had hike 12 1/2 miles and done the equivalent of 322 flights of stairs (so said her Fitbit).

On the way home we stopped at the Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill. It’s a cool old house with a wrap around porch. We chose to sit in the barroom because that’s where the beer was. The beer was ice cold. The burgers were yummy. We were chuffed.

Some more pix of the hike are on my Flickr page.

Many thanks to Kirstin for taking me on my first bigtime day hike in the Shenandoah National Forest. What a beautiful place.

Aftermath: I was pretty sore after the hike, mostly because of all the downhills. I woke up this morning feeling as if I had run a marathon. Walking downstairs was very difficult. My quads and calf muscles are super tight. Lucky for me, Mrs. Rootchopper got me a sports massage for Father’s Day. I am going to wait a while before using it. My recovery will be an easy bike ride to the bike shop and to Old Town, followed by RICE: Rest, Ice (cold beer), Couch and Espinosa.

Cheers.