The Mule’s Still Got It. My Knee Not So Much.

After two days of beautiful weather, The Mule insisted on going for a long ride. The Mule was jealous because I went hiking with friends yesterday. The Mule gets like that sometimes. The Mule would have killed me in my sleep if it had seen this view from the White Rocks overlook on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland.

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And so I found myself heading northwest along the Potomac River. For 12 miles I rode into a headwind on the Mount Vernon Trail to DC. I crossed the river on the 14th Street Bridge and headed to Georgetown. Next, I took the Capital Crescent Trail along the north side of the river. I had a choice of routes. Either follow the C&O Canal towpath or switch to the somewhat hilly roads. I chose pavement since the towpath was a mess the last time I rode it.

After 30 miles I reached Potomac Village where gas costs more than top shelf single malt scotch.

I turned left onto River Road and partook of the massive rolling hills, views of stupefying mansions, the tony Bretton Woods Country Club, a Buddhist temple, a one-room schoolhouse, and fields of corn. After over 20 miles I had no choice but to climb Mt. Nebo Road. It goes up steeply, three times. Maybe four. However many times, the last one hurt.

I had a headwind leaving DC but now I could tell the wind direction had changed. I was riding effortlessly, except for the steepest hills. As every cyclist knows this either means you put performance enhancing drugs on your Wheaties or you have a tailwind. Since cinnamon isn’t a PDA, I knew it was the latter.

A few miles later I picked up the towpath, expecting there to be only one mile to get to Whites Ferry, where a privately run cable ferry shuttles travelers across the Potomac River. Somehow the one mile was actually four. Yeah, well. At least the towpath was in excellent condition. I spun along merrily and spooked a couple of deer who were hanging around looking for trouble. They put out their cigs and hightailed it into the woods.

I only had to wait five minutes for the ferry. There were a handful of cars on it coming and going so I was off the boat in under two minutes on the Virginia side of the river.

Did I mention that the weather was nice?

I rode to Leesburg and picked up some snackage. Then headed back home along 35 miles of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. Into a headwind. Sadly, the snackage contained only chocolate and other sugary delights, not anabolic steroids.

I estimated that the ride would be about 100 miles, but my calculation error on the outbound portion of today’s excursion meant it would be a bit more.

All in all, it was a very pleasant day on the bike, except for the last 20 miles which I did on fumes while trying unsuccessfully to ignore a screaming left knee and shoulder. The left knee has been getting worse by the month and will require some medical intervention this fall. The shoulder has a rotator cuff impingement. (Impingement is a fancy medical term for “messed up”.) I could have surgery on it as well.

Did I mention my sore left hip?

Ugh.

This ride, my longest of the year, was well worth the pain.

They Don’t Call It Killermonjaro for Nothing

While I was away, my friend Chelli decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this summer. To get in climbing shape she’d been taking Mrs. Rootchopper and other friends on hikes in the Catoctin Mountains and on Sugarloaf Mountain. Yesterday, a day that will live in humidity, I joined the fun as the gang returned to Sugarloaf.

Sugarloaf has been the scene of two of my past misadventures. Five years ago I hiked the yellow trail with a ninja and a golden retriever. The experience left me cripple for days, and oddly marked the beginning of the end of an eight-year friendship. Another time I rode bikes around the base of the mountain with Science Mom. She somehow managed to end up falling ungracefully into a mud puddle. Our friendship survived even with her temporary loss of face.

Getting back to yesterday, Chelli parked strategically below the peak of the mountain. We started hiking upward on the blue trail, transitioned to the purple trail, and returned to the blue trail. After forty seven miles, we stopped at the white rock overlook to munch on pita sammies that Chelli had prepared. Paul chipped (sorry) in some Nacho Cheese Doritos. It was a lovely view and even lovelier breeze. 

Somehow the hike managed to seem all uphill. It took three hours and at least five gallons of sweat. Did I mention the humidity was off the charts?

 

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Hiking with sticks on Sugarloaf – photo by sneaky Chelli

A few years ago I did a hike in Shenandoah National Park with Kirstin. She used hiking poles and highly recommended them. On a whim, I bought a pair of poles on sale this spring. I have to say they are a big improvement over pole-less hiking. They kept me from turning my ankles and from putting excess impact stress on my knees and back. It only took about a mile for me to get used to them. When the hike was over, my wonky knee and hip didn’t have their usual crippling pain. I’d been wary of hiking in recent years but now I’m eager to get back out there.

I still can’t get over how hard hiking is. When I was younger I could run and jump and scramble and feel perfectly fine afterward. Yesterday, we were passed by a number of energetic young folk during the hike. I had to resist the urge to bludgeon them with my poles.

It turns out that hiking is deceptively hard work, made all the harder by aging. And it’s probably good for you. All the same, I’m glad Chelli is hiking Mt Kilimanjaro and not me.

 

Sugarloaf with Ninja Lady and Dog

The day dawned crisp with a blustery wind. The leaves had begun to turn. And I was itching to go for a day hike. Lucky for me, my friend Florencia and I had planned exactly that. Florencia is always full of surprises so today would be no different: we were bringing a dog.

I picked up Flor and Sundance, a golden retriever guide dog, at Flor’s place in McLean and headed out to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. We took our time to allow for conversation and maximum leaf peeping. Once we were off the interstate, we drove down country roads through farmer’s fields stripped of their summer bounty.

We parked on the uphill on the road up Sugarloaf. I didn’t realize how far from the top we were but it barely mattered. Walking up the road was a good warm up. After listening to a family bitching and kvetching at an overlook near the road, we headed for the nearest trail to escape. We chose the blue trail in what we later learned was a counter clockwise direction. Flor, dressed in ninja black, and Sundance led the way. Sundance was a pretty methodical  hiker dog. Since he is a guide dog, he tended to stay very close to Flor and got tangled up in his leash quite a bit. Other than that quibble, he was a mighty fine companion making friends with people and other dogs throughout the day.

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The trail goes up and down the sides of the mountain, with occassional overlooks of the surrounding countryside. The clear air made for great views of the valley below and the foliage all around. At one overlook we were treated to the aerial acrobatics of two hawks riding the updrafts. Top of the food chain, Ma!

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The hiking trail itself was a bit rocky. I had to keep my eyes on the ground so as not to turn an ankle, trip, or slide down and land on my posterior assets. (I seriously need to get some proper footwear for these hikes.) Whenever I looked up it seemed that the woods around us seem to go on forever. Just as she does in cycling and rock climbing, Flor moved uphill without the slightest regard for gravity. I, being somewhat more Newtonian, had to put my butt in gear to keep up.

The blue trail ended with a steep section straight up to where we started. I have to say the length of the hike was just right for me. I was plenty tired but not really wanting more. We hoofed it downhill to the car which seemed suspiciously farther down than where I recalled parking it.

We drove home, stopping for some munchies and a pumpkin at a country store. Once back on the road, Sundance fell sound alseep. It was a good thing Flor and I had each other to talk to because I am pretty sure that the both of us could have used a good snooze as well.

Many thanks to Flor’s American mom Tracie for lending us Sundance and the use of her car, a little Subaru station wagon that I really enjoyed driving.

And, of course, thanks to the ninja lady, Florencia, for another excellent day moving through the outdoors. Who knows what surprise our next adventure will hold.

To see some pix from our outing today, check out this set on my Flickr page.