It was 30 years ago that I gave up trying to commute on my Trek 1200 and bought a commuter bike. The Specialized Sequoia that I bought came with a generator lighting system that was wired through the metal fenders. The lights were lame (3 watts as I recall) and the generator contacted the tread of the tire and wore tires out.
Over time I replaced everything but the frame, fork, seat post, and rack. The bike was priced to move, at $300 off list because, back in those days, people shied away from heavy bikes. What I didn’t know was that this bike was the best selling touring bike in Europe.
It is an awesome touring bike. Stable. Comfortable. Dependable.
For a while I stopped riding it when I switched to Big Nellie, my recumbent bike. Nerve problems in my legs eventually drove me back to the bike I have come to call The Mule.
Today The Mule turned 61 as in 61,000 miles. Still going strong.
Okay, let’s start again. 2020 sucked but at least I salvaged some decent bicycling. I managed to go 10,240.5 miles this year. My Cross Check edged out The Mule for most miles: 4,179.5 to 4002.5. The other 20 percent of riding was split between Big Nellie (my Tour Easy recumbent) at 1,458.5 miles and Little Nellie (my New World Tourist) at 600 miles.
My bikes now have a total of 145,082 miles on them. Either one of them break or I do.
End of Year
New World Tourist
The monthly distribution was kind of Bell curvy. (I took stats, can’t you tell?)
As a prize for finishing in first place, the Cross Check got a new look. People used to pick me out during events by my humongous Carradice saddle bag. No longer. I switched to an Arkel Tailrider. It kind of wrecks the all black look, but it weights a bit less than the Carradice. The bike still weighs a ton but that will be addressed when I replace the tires with something lighter.
Indiana Jones once said. “It’s not the age; it’s the mileage.” Don’t know if I agree with him. I bought my Specialized Sequoia nearly 30 years ago. I almost gave up on it twice but a mechanic named Paul (now at Bicycle Space in DC) fixed a vexing problem with the headset about 20 years ago. When I complained about five years ago that he bike had too many miles on it to be trustworthy on long tours, my rando/touring/mechanic-y friend Mike told me not to worry. The Mule’s old steel frame would last a lot longer.
So here we are. At 60,000 miles. The frame, fork, seat post, rear rack, and wheel skewers are original. I fully expect to one day get on the bike and have it disintegrate beneath me. Until then, The Mule abides, baby.
By the way, if you’re thinking of getting a bicycle computer, don’t get the Cateye Padrone. It has never worked properly but I bought it at the start of the pandemic and returning it was fraught with peril.
After a day of riding 65 hilly miles, my legs felt like concrete. Yesterday I was walking around like Frankenstein. In a fit of sanity, I took the day off.
Today my legs felt much better. I decided to go for a spin but before I began I raised my saddle a smidgen. Small changes to saddle height and other bicycle settings can make an enormous difference in comfort. Just a couple of millimeters was all it took to calm my sore left knee. I had no pain at all during my 35-mile ride up to DC and back. The change also seemed to help my lower back.
About a mile from home, I pulled The Mule over to take a picture..
I am beginning to wonder whether The Mule will outlast me.
I discovered the website Bikewashington.org many, many years ago. It’s especially useful for newcomers to the DC area. Luckily, it’s list of day rides holds a few surprises even for those of us who’ve lived here a long time. And so I found myself doing the North to Gettysburg ride on what started as a splendid early summer day.
The ride starts in Thurmont, Maryland, a small town located not all that far from Camp David, the presidential getaway place. As I began my ride, I saw two Marine helicopters heading in the general direction of DC from the nearby mountains. Melania must be bored.
It was about 70 degrees F with a strong southerly breeze when I started out of town. The old downtown has a few log cabin buildings but this historical quaintness soon gave way to more modern residential houses, farm buildings, and the occasional machine shop as I left town.
The route is specifically designed to avoid the nearby mountains which contain several challenging climbs. Being an old fart with bad knees, I appreciated this aspect. As I headed north on curvy country roads, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. This area is just rural bliss and perfect bike riding. There’s enough variation in the terrain to shake things up a bit without having to go blue in the face and feel fire in the legs from exertion. I’m sure I could have done every one of the short climbs on this ride without using my granny gear, but I decided it would be best to be kind to my worn out left knee.
Yeah, I’m old.
As I approached a turn I saw a sign warning that a bridge over the Monocacy River was out of commission on Bullfrog Road. I was following a paper cue sheet and decided to follow the detour signs. After three miles I came upon Bullfrog Road. Hey, wait a minute. I consulted the Google and learned that the route never actually crossed the Monocacy on Bullfrog, rather it left Bullfrog staying entirely to the west of the river. Doh!
Well, I guess my 46-mile ride had now become a 52-miler but so what? The Mule abides.
After more country roads than John Denver could a guitar neck at, I found myself crossing the Mason Dixon line, the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The pavement turned from black to gray but the surface remained bike-friendly. Soon I found myself turning onto a narrow lane into Gettysburg National Battlefield. The route runs along Cemetery Ridge past Little Round Top, Round Top, and the Angle. Tourists and families scrambled about the hillside imagining the Confederate army attacking up the hill into defensive fire from the Union positions. It’s remarkable that they nearly succeeded more than once.
The battlefield is dotted or perhaps I should say strewn with dozens of monuments to Union states and militias and military brass of the day. At the northern end of the ridge I stopped to have a snack before turning south to begin the ride back.
US Business 15 bisects the flat land across which Pickett made his charge. One look at the lay of the land reaffirmed my lifelong disdain for blindly following orders. It’s a miracle his troops didn’t frag him. Instead they died by the score although some momentarily breached the Union defenses at the Angle. The South’s military headcount was vastly outnumbered by the North. That Lee would waste so many soldiers in such an obviously futile assault puts the lie to the notion that he was a superior military commander. Don’t believe me? Go to Gettysburg and see for yourself.
My route turned to the west from the battlefield and then headed south along the western side of the valley. By this time, the lovely morning weather had given way to a typically swampy mid-Atlantic summer day. The terrain seemed hillier but increase in effort may have been caused by the headwind that was wearing me down.
More hills and curves and farms and cows. Even a longhorn. I startled a yearling deer crossing the road. It turned tail into the roadside bushes. A little further on a hedgehog did a u-ey and waddled under a barn. At least the wildlife has some pep yet, I thought.
I rolled into Emmitsburg on the Maryland side of the border and, after missing a turn, found myself cruising through Mount Saint Mary’s College campus. The campus is situated along US 15, a four lane divided highway. But for this misfortune, the campus would get an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It’s stone buildings practically intoned Catholic academia. It’s metal sided gym, really an oversized quonset hut, somehow amusingly fit in. The seminary building to the rear up a hill was the crown jewel.
Another ten miles or so to go. Up and down and around. I was running out of energy, a peanut butter bagel apparently being enough for 46 miles but not for 52.
After crossing US 15, I followed the windy (in both senses of the word) country roads to the final payoff, a covered bridge over Owens Creek. Why the heck did these things even exist? No matter, they are charming and, as long as you don’t catch a wheel in the gap in the boards, they are a treat to ride through.
Back into Thurmont an annoyed driver honked his horn at me as I passed him. I pointed to the stop sign that he was about to ignore and successfully shamed him. To prove my point the route had me follow him through town. His impatience was accomplishing nothing but raising his blood pressure.
If you live in DC, I highly recommend this ride, without the unnecessary detour. I must admit that I resisted taking pictures otherwise I’d still be out there riding. It’s beautiful country.
I’ve lived in the DC area for more than half my life. I’ve been to most of the touristy spots multiple times. Like many people, when our kids were little we took them to the Williamsburg area where there is much to see and do. On the historical side, we visited Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, but, for some reason we never got around to Yorktown, where the British army surrendered to end the Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781.
On Tuesday, I remedied that omission on two wheels. Starting at the Williamsburg visitor center I rode the Colonial Parkway 13 miles to Yorktown. The roadway surface, composed of aggregate (small stones in concrete), is a bit rough. It is oddly three lanes wide with no lane markings. Distance is measured not with mileposts but with kilometer posts. I can’t recall seeing this anywhere else in the U. S. It was hot and humid but the ample shade kept me comfortable until the parkway reached the banks of the York River.
The river is wide, perhaps a half-mile or more. The parkway, now unshaded, turns to the southeast following the river and passing through marshy areas and by narrow beaches. After a gentle upslope, the parkway ends at the entrance to the Yorktown Battlefield. The visitors’ center was closed, of course. A few people wandered around zombie-like listening to a virtual tour on their phones. To tour the battlefield takes three hours by car. Unless you’re a serious war wonk, you can cut to the chase and head to the Victory Monument.
The 98-foot tall monument was erected in the 1880s. It has a massive base which supports a column topped by a figure of Liberty. (Liberty has twice been damaged by lightning, Make of that what you will.)
There are extensive inscriptions on each side of the base. These writings make clear that the Yorktown battle and siege, to a very great extent, was a French operation. It was the French navy that fought of British ships off the Virginia coast, thereby preventing an evacuation of the British army by river and sea. Of the 17,000 land forces on the American side, 5,000 were French soldiers. Without the French we Americans would spending pounds, drinking warm beer, and singing “God Save the Queen”.
And so the war ended and the new country, no longer under mortal threat from Britain, could begin in earnest.
In 1976, the year of the U. S. bicentennial, the monument became the start and finish of a new tradition of sorts. Bikecentennial was an event that sent small groups of bike tourists across small town America between the Oregon coast and the Yorktown Monument. The route they followed was named the TransAmerica Trail. It traverses over 4,000 miles through Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.
Fittingly, for some TransAm riders, Yorktown is the beginning. For others, it is the end. For all it is a profound experience. In 1981 I met someone who was in one of the 1976 Bikecentennial groups. Equipped with a ten-speed bike and a whole lot of heart, Anne Meng rode with six other scruffy riders from west to east. I found pictures of her group on Flickr. (Search under TAWK518, the code for their group.) They show snow, fatigue, endless roads, and joy. Oddly, she never mentioned that she crashed and spent a night in hospital in Montana.
Today, the Bikecentennial organization is called Adventure Cycling. They have mapped over 50,000 miles of bike routes in the United States. My 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 bike tours were nearly all on Adventure Cycling Routes including parts of the New York to Chicago, Great Lakes, Lewis and Clark, TransAm, Northern Tier, Pacific Coast, Western Express, and Atlantic Coast routes. By my count, I’ve done about 9,800 miles of their network.
After returning to Williamsburg, I headed to Jamestown Island, adjacent to the Jamestown settlement, where the ships landed. A tunnel near Jamestown village was closed to bikes, necessitating a detour into the village. It was quaint and uncrowded but for re-enactors of early colonial life and a few tourists. Back on route I rode past the Jamestown Settlement site (which I visited with my family years ago) and onto Jamestown Island. The one-lane, level road through the woods was closed to cars. Yay, pandemic.
The rest of my ride took me in a twelve-mile arc around the western side of the Williamsburg area. This was unremarkable exurban and suburban riding in blistering heat. I stopped at a gas station convenience store for drinks and snacks. Half the people in the store were not wearing masks which made me very uncomfortable and angry. I suppose causing someone to suffocate in their own blood is worth the inconvenience of wear a piece of cloth over your face.
In 30 minutes I had reached the end of my 60-mile adventure.
The weather here in the DC area is about as close to perfect as it can get. 70 degrees. Nice breeze. Low humidity. Even the pollen seems to be down. Where’s my hammock?
I went for a ride to close out the month and get away from the nonstop stress machines of TV and Twitter. I chose Charles County, Maryland because it is only a half hour from home by car and pleasantly rural.
The ride I did is called the Portside Pacer and traces a figure 8 through the Port Tobacco and La Plata areas. A few days ago I did a different ride in this area. Today’s ride did not involve the Indian Head Rail Trail or a climb up Rose Hill. Instead, I stayed entirely on roads and rode down Rose Hill. When I got to the bottom I got confused ending up on the wrong side of the Port Tobacco River. I rode about 3 1/2 miles before I clued in. (I should be heading east, shouldn’t I? Dang.)
No worries. The weather was so amazing that I didn’t mind the extra distance.
The ride does involved several short climbs but I was on The Mule with it’s ultra low granny gear. I didn’t really need it but, by using it, I can be assured that my left knee won’t wake me up at 3 a.m.
The short climbs also mean some short descents. The smooth, curvy roads made these joyful.
Of course, I did have to return to the start but the route goes more or less around Rose Hill so instead of climbing straight up I had a long gradual roll.
One thing I have noticed in recent days is how my body is almost completely healed after over a year of aches and pains. My pedaling is much, much stronger than it has been since my 2018 cross-country trip. My hip doesn’t hur893.t any more. I can get on and off my bike without feeling like my leg is giving way. I still have some soreness under my left kneecap but it’s not nearly as bad as a month ago. Unfortunately, my back still refuses to let me walk long distances but I am hopeful that it will calm down over time.
So I closed out May with a 40-mile jaunt. That brought my monthly mileage to 893, my biggest month since August 2019. (It’s nearly 500 miles less than last May, but I’m not on tour this year thanks to the pandemic. I’ve ridden 3,799 miles so far in 2020. If the news continues to be stressful, I may double that by September.
Stay safe. Deep breaths. Wear a mask. Call your momma.
Today’s ride from Baker to Ely was supposed to be relatively easy: 62 miles and two mountain summits (both over 7,000 feet).
I ate dinner and breakfast at Kerouac’s one of two restaurants in town. It had a limited menu for both meals, cold beer (at dinner) and a very cool atmosphere (background music included lots of mellow tunes including one by XTC that I’d never heard). Pricey? Yes. But a pretty good find in a dusty town with a population of 68 people.
The motel I stayed at was in an RV park. It looked rather run down but it served its purpose. I slept for ten straight hours.
After breakfast I headed down the road for about five miles. It seemed downhill which is a nice way to start the day. Nicer still I had a bit of a tailwind and some nonthreatening cloud provided relief from the sun.
Although I started at 8:15, it’s a bit late owing to the fact that I’m now on Pacific time. Winds tend to be lighter early in the morning which might have been a factor a few hours into the day.
I picked up US 50 (yes, the same one!). Out here it’s called the Loneliest Road in America. It seemed mighty busy to me.
I was feeling pretty good, especially after yesterday’s long ride. I knew it had to be a tailwind. I rode all the way up to Sacramento Pass at 7,154 feet. I never felt stressed during the climb, stopping only to munch and eat.
Over the top the thrilling descent revealed the strength of the winds. I was flying down the mountain and getting blown all over. Thankfully, no cars or trucks or rental RVs passed me.
The descent turned toward the south as I entered Spring Valley in the shadow of Windy Peak.
That beneficial tailwind was now in my face and it was strong. (Should’ve hit the road earlier!) even with the remains of the downhill I had to work my butt off to make forward progress. In the valley there were lines of wind turbines spinning away.
The road included a short incline that would have been unremarkable except for the hand of the wind god on my chest.
The wind only intensified, somewhat unusual for this time of year, I’m told.
Crossing the valley to the nearly nonexistent town of Majors Junction took over three hours. The valleys are supposed to be the easy part!
I stopped at an RV Park/Bar/restaurant/motel. The property was surrounded by a fence topped with antlers. The neon sign said “Open”. There was no sign of customers or operators. A sign on the locked door said, “Out back in the barn. Back in 5 minutes.” The porch of the place provided shade from the hot sun while I waited. And waited.
After 15 minutes a woman came out and said, “We’re closed. Tuesday is my only day off.” In other words, “Get lost.”
So I headed up the ridge on the western side of the mountain. My battle with the winds in the valley had deadened my legs. Thankfully the route turned back to the north giving me a helping wind that I sorely needed.
It was only five miles to the top but it took well over and hour. I kept stopping to rest and re-full my water bottles from my bladders. The wind was blowing so hard that I was having trouble transferring the water.
I kept poking along until I reached Connors Pass at 7,722 feet. I was a hurtin unit.
With that wind at my back and a long downhill to the Steptoe Valley I moved from my granny to my big ring and boogied. 22 miles to go. Nearlyout of water. (Or so I thought. I had at least a liter left.)
One surprise today was how green the valleys are. Snow continues to melt on the ridges. I was hoping for flowers but I’ll take grass and sagebrush and trees (on the hillsides).
I closer I was to Ely the slower I seemed to go. I was obviously running out of gas. I grabbed the first cheap hotel I could find, a Motel 6. It’s not nearly as nice as the cheap motels I stayed in the last three nights. (The swimming pool outside my door is gross.)
While sitting on the porch of the closed place in Majors Junction, I decided that if I was having this much trouble on an easy day, I’d be screwed on a longer day. My next day is Ely to Eureka. 78 miles. Four summits. No services. Similar weather.
So I am taking a rest day in Ely. I haven’t had one since Salida, Colorado over two weeks ago. This will give me a chance to rest and buy food. I’m also changing to a different hotel in town.
The day began at 3:30 a.m. I woke up stressing about the fierce weather approaching from the west. The day’s sole objective was to not get caught in the maelstrom.
After inhaling the hotel complementary breakfast (they had Cheerios!!!), I hit the road at 6:50 wearing 2 shirts, my jacket, and my long pants. It was only 48 degrees outside and the wind was blowing. Fortunately for me the wind was either at my back or to my side all day.
I hopped on a rail trail and rode it southwest out of Staunton. I passed a couple of horses munching near the trail side. One was a palomino, my favorite. It brought to mind the dearth of livestock I’ve seen in this trip. There have been no herds of cattle or horses to stampede like last summer in the northern plains.
I flew by into Edwardsville in about 2 hours. There I pondered whether to take a google maps short cut to St. Louis or continue following Route 66 on a circuitous track to the north. After briefly attempting the google route I decided to stick with my Route 66 maps. Google has too many turns and, for all I know, goes through sketchy areas.
Before crossing the Mississippi into Missouri, I stopped at a market to buy snacks. It’s been painfully obvious that I haven’t been eating enough on this trip so I bought apples and candy bars and cheese.
The river and a connected canal looked bloated as I rode across the old Route 66 bridge which is now closed to motor vehicles.
Turning south, I followed the riverside trail and passed a Missouri DOT truck parked at a trailhead. The truck’s flashing lights were on. The driver was asleep. I continued for another 100 yards and found my wheels encumbered with thick, slimy river mud. I worked my way up to an adjacent highway and started scraping away at the gunk in the narrow paved shoulder.
An African American man of about 40 pulled up and stopped in the north bound lane.
“Are you okay? Do you have a flat?”
“Nope, just clearing off mud.”
“You should get up in the grass out if the road.”
So I did. He pulled his white SUV onto the grass next to me.
The people who drive on this road are crazy. You gotta be careful.
Seconds later: BANG
Two sedans collided on the road. One went one way. The other ended up right where I was standing.
As the SUV driver, whose name was Jerry, said, “That would have fucked you up.”
One of the two cars took off up a side road. The driver of the other car walked up to us to see if we got the car’s license. Unfortunately I was too dumbfounded to notice. For someone who just went through a hit and run this drivers remarkably composed, as if it happened every day.
Off she drove shaking her head.
Back at my mud chore, I notice that my right index finger was bleeding. Jerry pulled out a first aid kit and gave me alcohol swabs, disinfectant patches, and band aids.
He then gave me his phone number to call him if I got stuck in the storm later in the day. Finally, he gave me directions to get back to the trail where it runs atop the levee, away from the mud.
“Whatever you do don’t stay in this road. It goes through the most violent neighborhoods in the area. Two or three people get shot every day.”
I thanked him profusely and followed his guidance. Unfortunately the trail diverted from the levee back toward the river. The mud in this area was several inches thick and super slick. I had to backtrack about a mile and ride in the road again.
This road has heavy truck traffic. Big trucks too. It’s a good thing that truck drivers are patient because every one of them passed me with plenty of room.
At Broadway and Grand Boulevard I had a choice: go two more miles along the river risking crazy drivers and gawdawful mud or ride up a steep hill toward the center of town. I chose to ride up the hill thereby bypassing the Gateway Arch and the interesting buildings along the riverfront. Having already seen them I didn’t think it was worth the risk. Plus, the hill cut some distance and time from my route, a good thing since I had lost at least an hour of time to the mud.
The neighborhood I rode through made the gnarliest DC neighborhoods look like paradise. It was hard to decide what was sadder, the depressing poor people at the bus stops or the shattered big round stained glass window in a beautiful old church. This was obviously a neighborhood bereft of hope.
Then suddenly I was in Grand Center, a few city blocks of lovingly maintained old theaters and businesses. Next came St. Lois University with gorgeous gothic revival buildings.
Turning west on Lindell Boulevard I passed the majestic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. On past Forest Park I pulled up to the main entrance to Washington University. The main building stood on a hill facing the city with an unobstructed view. Sadly the University has cluttered the place with modern buildings, with another being added.
Soon I was heading west out of town through posh suburbs with hectic traffic and traffic lights that always seemed to be red.
This was taking too long but I had no choice. My original plan was to stay at a motel in Ellisville but the google picture made it look like a dump.
I forged ahead 12 more very hilly miles to Eureka. Along the way I rode on Woods Avenue. It was about a 3-mile, 400-foot windy, wooded descent, the stuff of bicyclists’ dreams.
Unfortunately this was followed by a 1-mile, 400 foot climb that taxed my body to the max. It felt just like the two mountains I climbed near Pittsburgh on last summer’s tour.
As if to pat me on the back for surviving the climb. The road descended 400 feet over the next mile, after which another 200-foot climb was a non event.
I pulled into a Burger King. After I dismounted I was shaking from the effort of those nasty hills. I ate an Impossible burger, a veggie burger that is supposed to taste like beef. It did. Well played BK.
The last two miles were uneventful. I checked in to my hotel, showered, inhaled some snacks then checked the weather.
We were under a tornado warning. Soon sirens blared. This was not a drill.
The hotel’s guests were gathered in the lobby looking at the radar on a big screen. Scary stuff.
It took a ton of effort, sone luck, a trail Angel, and way too much mud but I pulled it off. A day for the ages.