This bike looks suspiciously like a snow shovel

The year opened with warm weather. Nearly warm enough for shorts on the bike. So naturally I took The Mule out for a couple of rides, managing 62 miles to and from DC. The streets were eerily empty.

Then the storm hit. For the first time in three years we were socked with an honest to god snowstorm. By the time it ended we had 11 1/2 inches in our yard. Wet snow. Good packin’ snow as we used to say during my snowball fighting youth

.I broke out the Wovel and went to work on Monday. Neighbors kept remarking at what a clever invention it is. My back was happy. There is no lifting involved just pushing down and thrusting with the legs. The only drawback was that the was so much snow that I ran out of places to put it. After about three hours, I finished the task of freeing up the cars and went inside. My triceps were screaming at me. All that pushing down was like being in a gym on one machine for hours. I went inside, ate, showered, and hit the couch for a well deserved nap.

Madman with Wovel from 2014

On Tuesday morning I went out for round two. On Monday I moved nine inches or so. Tuesday I moved the rest. Same result. I was sore and tired afterward. I repeated my post-shoveling ritual: I ate, took a shower, and fell asleep on the couch.

Yesterday there was no snow to move. Time to ride! But there was no way I was going out on streets narrowed by plowed snow, covered in brine and sand and salt. So I took to the basement for my first bike/reading session of the year. I managed to last 1:48, what I guess is the equivalent of 19 miles. I did a ladder workout. Starting in the lowest gear, read a page, shift up. Go up to the top gear in that chainring then reverse. Next, shift to the big ring and go back up the ladder. I did two sets. My knees were screaming at me.

Big Nellie on a resistance trainer in the basement.

After my ride, I went upstairs and helped Mrs. Rootchopper and our daughter finish the 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle – an end-of-year tradition at our house – we had begun a few days earlier. Eduard Munch’s The Scream.

You’d scream too if you had to do this puzzle.

Today, I planned on going out to deal with the storm damage in our yard. A cedar tree in our back yard had split near the top. The debris came down and was sitting on the power line to our house. Mrs. Rootchopper cut off some of the lower part of the fallen tree top. This took some weight off the line. For the rest we called Dominion Power. They had a crew out in a couple of days. The crew left their cuttings on the ground. A redbud tree on the side of the house had split down the middle of its main trunk. A couple of other large branches were hanging off other trunks.

Top of tree resting on power line.

I first had to move a pile of snow to make way for the new branches. Next I moved a big pile of branches from my wife’s previous efforts out of the mouth of the driveway. Then I started hauling branches, cutting them so that they would stack neatly, then adding them to a huge pile. I planned on 30 minutes. I even put a load of laundry in. Alas, it took three hours. I slipped and fell twice. It was not a lot of fun.

When I finished I came inside and felt like someone had beaten me with a bat. Every muscle ached. My back. My legs. My hands.

So I ate, showered, and took a nap. And did more laundry.

I hope to ride again tomorrow. That may not pan out. There’s another storm coming overnight.

Yeah, It’s Winter

You can hold out hope for only so long until it becomes futile. Yesterday I finally pulled out some of my serious winter gear. The holey sweater is an old wool sweater with holes in it that I between my base layer and my jacket. My neoprene overboots go over my bicycling shoes. I rode over 20 miles yesterday (with a stop at the gym) and was pretty comfy the whole time.

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The tools of ignorance

Today, not so much. It’s snowing here in DC. We have had about an inch or two but most of it melted on contact with the ground. The roads were treated with brine so there is no slipping and sliding to deal with. So out I went. My backyard looked like this.

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature
I think we can put away the lawn mower now


It’s bloody cold. (Whiner!) The snow coated my lobster gloves making them all but useless. With temps above freezing, the snow that landed on my boots melted and eventually gave me wet feet. As the ride wore on, the snow became crystallized. It was somewhere between sleet and fluffy snow. (Where’s an Inuit when I need one? They surely have a word for this.) I’d occasionally get a pellet down my wind pipe and gag. A few times one of the little beasts went into my eye.

Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty and fun but every time I turned into the wind my toes and fingertips said, “Hey moron, take us home.”

So I surrendered after getting 20 miles riding in.

While I was riding it occurred to me that I actually prefer riding in a gale force wind during a six-day tropical depression than to riding in winter. Pick your poison.

I spent the first 27 years of my life living in the frozen north of upstate New York and southern New England. Let’s just say I never quite embraced the whole frost bite thing. I moved to the DC area to get away from winter. Today’s DC “cold” would be chamois shirt weather in Boston. I still have one, but I long ago got rid of my Michelin Man winter parka.

I have hopes of reaching 10,000 miles this year. I am about 250-ish miles short with 22 days to go. But we are now getting into the holiday season. I have social and other events for the next five days. Then my kids come home. And who knows what the weatherman will bring. Time will tell.



Three Little Things

Thing One

The last few days have had some interesting moments. The other day I was riding Little Nellie to work. I didn’t feel so well but I had to go to work so that I could go to see Santana in DC with Mrs. Rootchopper. (It’s her real name. I swear!)

About 2 1/2 miles from home, I drop down a steep hill. I can easily hit 30 miles per hour on this one. After that I have about 1/2 mile to go before I come to the crossing of the busy George Washington Parkway. Car and bus commuters use the same intersection. The car commuters generally are turning north to head to Alexandria and DC and the bus commuters are crossing to catch the north-bound bus.

The cars queue up, often ten deep. I suppose I could join the line, but typically I ride carefully past the cars on their left hand side. On this day I saw that there was ample space between the edge of the road and the left hand side of the cars so I decided to squeeze by them to the right. This is not a good idea. I noticed a passenger side door crack open and hit my brakes. I came to a stop at the rear fender of the car just as the shotgun seat passenger hopped out right into my line of travel. He was getting out to run for the bus. I may have yelled something. He looked at me and said “sorry” as he closed the door on his back to let me pass unharmed.

My brain went into immediate aggressive mode and I barked some angry words back at him as I rode by. After about three minutes and well beyond the crossing, I realized that he was actually not at fault. Anytime you squeeze by a car on the passenger side, you are asking to get doored. This passenger had no reasonable expectation that a bike would be there.

Still I hope my harsh words will make him think twice the next time he opens a car door.

Santana was entertaining but we didn’t get on the road (with Little Nellie in the trunk of my wife’s car) until 11:30. By the time I got to bed it was clear that I was dying a slow death at the hands of the Pollen Beast.

I slept until 10 the next morning. I NEVER do this. By Friday I was back in action.

Thing Two

On my ride home last night, I diverted from Union Street, the mainline of the Mount Vernon Trail through Old Town. Instead I rode up Royal or Fairfax Street. There is a stop sign at the end of each block. There were cars and buses about so I was being careful and stopping at each stop sign. I was passed by an Alexandria City police vehicle, an SUV. I followed it up the street and watched as it rolled through two stop signs. The driver was in no hurry, he or she just did what everybody else does. My only problem is that APD goes out of its way to give tickets to cyclists who do the very same thing in Old Town. I waved a mittened hand at the cop. He waved back. Have a nice day.

Thing Three

Today is Saturday. The Nationals are scheduled for a 4 pm game. It’s April 9. And it’s snowing outside. The biggest flakes I’ve seen in a long time. And it’s sticking. And the wind is blowing. And it’s cold.


They postponed the game. I am staying inside. Until May.



The S Word

I am told that Monday was the end of meteorological winter. Who the hell came up with that idea?

It was damned cold here this morning. I was ready with my chemical toe warmers and layers and such. The ride to work was comfy although I had to switch from Big Nellie to Little Nellie. It was a footwear thing. Big Nellie has clipless pedals and my clipless shoes are not good for cold weather. So I put on my hiking boots and rode Little Nellie which has pedals and toe clips.

The only problem I had was when I fell into my trance approaching the Memorial Bridge. I hit a section of the trail covered intermittently with black ice. Eek!

I rode over some of it then swerved over to the grass for the rest.

Winds were light-ish today. You can now discern the buds on the trees. The willows have a light green tinge to their cascading branches. Soon we’ll get some leafy protection from the wind.

The ride home was a piece of cake. I noticed that Arlington County had sprayed brine on the trail connecting the Custis Trail to the Mount Vernon Trail. Arlington County rocks. Too bad the National Park Service doesn’t follow suit.

About a mile from the house, snow flurries started swirling about. Sorry to use the S word in meteorological spring. The flurries were pretty. We may get and inch or two overnight.

The slushy mess we will have gives me an excuse to work from from home tomorrow .I rode five days in a row this week for a total of over 155 miles.

I think my legs are ready for spring.




Snowzilla Strikes Back

I woke up late, around 8:00. It was still snowing outside just as it did when I went to sleep. Icicles hung from the eaves all around the house. A look outside and it was clear that a foot of snow had fallen since I shoveled yesterday.

After breakfast I headed out into the storm. There was so much snow and the snow banks were so high that my wovel became useless. I had to resort to a conventional snow shovel. My neighbor came by with his snow blower and cleared a path through the sidewalk and out to the street. Thanks, Jay.

Dig. Heave. Dig. Heave. On and on. Occasionally, I could use the wovel and did. But the snow was heavy and my triceps were tired from yesterday.

After clearing our driveway with some help from expert car excavator Mrs. RC, I headed across the street to liberate the other three cars in our fleet. The street hadn’t been plowed in hours. To make matters worse, the plow only did 2/3rds of the street. This meant I had to shovel snow to get to the neighbors driveway. How much snow? My friend Rachel said it was many fucktons. She is quantitatively astute.

Mrs. RC worked on clearing the snow off the cars. I went to work with the wovel on the obstructed driveway.

Dig. Heave. Dig. Heave.

Four hours later we were done.

All I wanted was baked goods and a massage. Alas, my baking friend and my massage friend are 20 miles and several thousand fucktons of snow away.

Of course, over the four hours, another inch of snow had fallen. We clear that, fed the birds, and headed indoors.

Everybody part hurts. Somehow.

I am spent.

Outside the storm has intensified again. White outs are happening. Winds are howling.

I have to go back out there in a couple of hours.


Snow Fever

It really has only been winter here in DC for about five days. The rest of the time the weather has been rather warm. So it was a nice surprise to see snow falling outside my window. Still in my jammies, I curled up with a book and felt the winter vibe. Of course, it was in the 30s outside and the ground was warm so the snow melted on contact. Still, it was pretty.

After reading for a while, I hooked  my TV up to the new HDTV cable service. All I can say is that the enhanced picture convinces me that old football players are hurtin’ in the looks department.

My chore done, I put on some riding clothes and headed out into the snow. I didn’t have anywhere to go but I did want to check out the shifting on Little Nellie. It has been sloppy for a couple of years now and getting worse. Last weekend I cleaned the bejesus out of the chain and the derailleur wheels. A few weeks ago, I replaced the cable and housing that lead to the rear derailleur.  Replacing the housing is important because the routing of the cables on a Bike Friday goes down under the bottom bracket then up to the derailleur. This creates a trap like the one under your sink. Gunk gets in there and causes the cable to stick which causes the shifting to be messy.

I was going to take the bike to a local mechanic that I think highly of but he is away for a couple of weeks. So, I decided to check out the situation myself. I found that the shifter cable and the brake cable crisscrossed twice. This means that the shifting could interfered with when I used the rear brakes. So I undid the brake cable and moved it.

Off I went into the snow. Weee. Actually, Weeeeeeetttttt! The snow was melting on contact. My feet were soon soaked with ice cold water. I made it about 8 miles before heading for home. The shifting seemed to work just fine.

Riding in the Snow with Lobster Glove in Mouth

Now where are those jammies and my book?

Springtime in Washington

Springtime in Washington

I rode to work in a snow storm today. It was beautiful. The snow accumulated in the oddest places on my bike. I reached down for a drink and my water bottles were covered in 1/2 inch of snow. There’s something to be said for drinking cold, cold water mixed with snow crystals. This picture was taken once I made it to the parking garage. The ride home was less enchanting. The snow had turned to a strange kind of rain: not quite sleet, not full on rain. I was dressed for the weather but I’d rather be riding in shorts and a t-shirt by this time of year.

15 Miles In

!5 miles in.

If I’m lucky I average 12 miles per hour. Each ride in takes 75 minutes.

There is no music. There is no news. There is no “Traffic and weather together on the eights.”

Just my bike and me and a ribbon of pavement from home to the office.

LIke this:

I breath. I shiver. I sweat. My legs spin. Pedal, pedal.

I turn. I huff and puff up a hill. I turn again. And again. And again.

I look for deer in the woods along the road.

I hear a dog bark.

I stop. I wait for traffic at a cross street.

The coast is clear. I go.


I swoosh down a steep hill. My face is cold. Tears well in my eyes. I am flying blind. Neil Young was wrong. Flying on the ground is right.

I cruise through an S curve, first right then left.

I survive the Parkway crossing. Cars rush by. Hurry, hurry. Can’t wait to get stuck in the Old Town traffic bottleneck.

On to the Mount Vernon Trail. The Dyke Marsh boardwalk. Sun rising over the PG County hills to my right. Red wing blackbirds making a racket. Mama and Papa goose waddle next to the culvert under the Parkway. Soon there will be babies. Fuzzy green goslings.

The serpentine trail guides me. Cars rushing to my left. Trees stilling to my right.

The Hoppy Guy runs with his improbable gait.

Past the Belle Haven bald eagle nest. No one home. Geese on the river. Ugly National Harbor scars the far river bank. Ugly Porto Vecchio scars the near one.

Down into Jones Point Park beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Masses of concrete swooping somehow overhead. Making concrete attractive isn’t easy.

Around Fords Landing and down Union Street in Old Town. I ride past the coffee zombies at Starbucks. Beans! Beans!

Back on the trail past the construction site at the old Sheet Metal Association building. No longer covered in ugly army green metal. A brick façade is going on today. A forklift next to the trail raises a stack of dry wall panels high. Please don’t drop them on me.

Around the powerless power plant. Another boardwalk. And another. A mallard waddles across the trail and splashes into the beaver pond where the trail used to be. The umpire in my mind calls, “Safe!”

Snow is falling. Big puffy flakes attack my glasses. One, then another goes into my eye. Cold tears.

Even light snow muffles the sounds of the airport and the cars rushing by. Pedal, pedal.

The forecast has scared away most of the bike commuters. I am alone but not lonely. Along the river now. The city to my right is obscured by a fog of a billion swirling flakes.

Black ice ahead. Tense up. I ride across without touching the brakes or turning the wheel. No problem, thank god. Falling would suck.

Across one more boardwalk this one covered in the white dust.

Up the hill to Rosslyn. Like football, it builds character. Not really. They just tell you that so you won’t complain.

Down the sidewalk dodging the smartphone walkers. Tweet. Bing!

Into the garage. Around the cars waiting to be parked. Wave at the attendant.

15 miles in.

Back Out, Day 10: A Wovely Day

It snowed last night. At daybreak we had about 6 inches of snow on the ground. The bottom inch was very wet so this was particularly heavy stuff. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been having back spasms for about ten days now. I was little worried that my back would not be up to clearing all the snow. So I bought a Wovel.

Today, I put my contraption to the test.

Madman with Wovel
Madman with Wovel

Damned if it didn’t work like a charm. 

It took a while to get used to, but after about 15 minutes I was shoveling like a maniac. Of course, I looked a bit like a maniac but if I gave a damn about appearances I wouldn’t ride a recumbent bike. The important thing is shoveling with my Wovel didn’t hurt my back at all. My triceps and legs got a bit of a work out though.

Mrs. Rootchopper used a conventional shovel to clear the steps in front of the house and remove snow from around the perimeter of the cars. A neighbor came by and cleared a path on the sidewalk across the street with a small snow plow. I cleared the sidewalk on my side of the street with the Wovel. It probably takes twice as long to clear snow with a Wovel than my neighbor’s snow plow. (My Wovel is quieter and  won’t run out of gas.) It’s at least twice as fast as using a conventional snow shovel.

I’ll have to go back out later today and have another go when the second wave of snow comes through, but I am actually kind of looking forward to it.

Wovel on!

Here are some more pix.

February by the Numbers

I biked 494 miles in February. All but 48 miles of that was bike commuting. I rode to and from work 15 times, 8 times on Little Nellie and 7 on Big Nellie.

For the year I have ridden 1,084 miles with 34 bike commutes. I don’t think I’ve ridden more than 32 miles in a day.

As the weather improves, my bike commuting pace will slow down a bit. I have another college safari to do at the end of the month, plus a full slate of high school girl’s lacrosse games, a business trip, three nights of a high school musical, a college student move out, and various and sundry high school graduation events. I hope to average at least ten bike commutes per month.

Oh, and I forgot, as I was writing this, a weather forecast appeared on the TV. We are supposed to get snow next week. I may get to try out those snowshoes I bought after Snowmaggedon after all.