Any road in a pandemic

Wandering through DC

I am out of clever ideas for riding in this pandemic. On Monday I left home thinking I’d ride out the C & O Canal to Great Falls. When I got to the turnoff to pick up the towpath I decided not to turn. Instead I rode up Rock Creek Park for a mile and then exited up the short hill onto P Street.

From P Street I headed east until I spotted a statue. Must be someone important, I thought. It was the Bard of Ukraine. Yeah, well.

After checking out the bard, I moseyed over to Q Street where I found a statue of the man who united the Czachs and the Slovaks to create Czechoslovakia. He died a couple of years before the Nazis invaded. Timing is everything.

Next I started riding across town on Q Street. A cyclist rolled past. His bike was adorned with touring items, a set of front panniers, a rack bag, a tin cup hanging off the bag, etc. At the next stop light he turned and realized he knew me. It was Joe, a #bikedc friend. We had bonded over tails our our separate cross-country bike tours and the post-tour afterglow we both experienced.

Joe guided me across town through a chicane at Florida Avenue. He pointed out the gun sensor (used to notify policy of gunfire) and noted that we were in the neighborhood where the notorious drug kingpin, Rayful Edmond, ran his operation back in the days when crack was king. (Mr. Edmond was sent to the big house years ago.)

A mural at a Q Street restaurant

We made it through unscathed then took on the intersection of New York and New Jersey Avenues, the infamous Dave Thomas Circle. It’s actually not a traffic circle. It’s just one of dozens of places where avenues and streets intersect to form a traffic triangle. It gets its name (albeit unofficial) from the fact that there’s a Wendy’s in the middle of the triangle. City planners have promised to fix this mess for decades. I suggest a well placed explosive device would be a good start.

Joe guided me off road across the circle using curb cuts. I am impressed that he pulled this off without eliciting a single honk from drivers. We were fish on a reef swimming past the sharks. Back on Florida Avenue, we made our way into a protected bike lane. It had flexposts on the left hand side. This was great. It was filled with debris and park vehicles. This was not great.

To our left were several brand new high rise apartment buildings. Joe said his good byes and veered off to his posh abode. I continued on past Gallaudet University. A few blocks later I passed the ghost bike (a bike painted in white) that marks where my friend Dave was killed by a maniac driving a stolen van.

As depressing as the site is, I am always buoyed by think of Dave. He was a splendid human being.

Florida took me to H Street and Benning Road. I crossed the Anacostia River and took the Anacostia River Trail all the way to the South Capitol Street bridge. I rode on the side walk across the bridge and admired the new bridge being built to my left. They can’t finish it too soon. The sidewalk is falling apart.

New and Old Frederick Douglas (South Capitol Street) Bridges

Back on the west side of the river, I turned near Nationals Park. I managed to ride through a whole mess of construction, around Fort McNair, and down past the Wharf. This area is normally a beehive of activity but the pandemic…well, you know.

I decided to head for home and ended up riding 40 miles. Not bad for someone just wandering around.

Return to Yorktown

Yesterday, my wife, daughter, and I drove to Williamsburg VA so that my daughter could check out the law school at William and Mary University. We stopped in The Cheese Shop for sandwiches. The inside was very crowded. Everyone wore a mask but I still was very uncomfortable. We ate our sandwiches outside in perfect weather. Then I took off on my Cross Check for Yorktown.

The view from The Cheese Shop

It’s pretty easy to find. You get on the Colonial Parkway and in 13 miles you’re there. What’s the fun of that. I used the Google and found an alternate route. The first three miles were fine but for the next five miles I was on a four-lane highway with no shoulder, Not fun.

I complicated matters by missing a turn. Or two.

Thankful for my mirror, I boogied on until I saw a sign for Yorktown. Yay. I followed the sign then kept going and was rewarded with a placid two lane country road that led directly to the southern side of the battlefield.

As luck would have it I came upon the earthworks behind which the good guys had been positioned while starving the Brits in their encampment along the York River near the town.

Earthworks at Yorktown Battlefield

It was near here (according to a road side sign) that Cornwallis surrendered his sword to Washington. (Cornwallis didn’t actually participate. He was sick. He send his second in command with his sword. The second in command didn’t know what Washington looked like so he tried to surrender to French General Rochambeau. Rochambeau set him right. Washington directed him to his second in command because protocol.

After this odd history lesson I rode past the victory monument, which is the eastern terminus to the TransAmerica bicycle route.

Using the Google again, I rode down to the beach along York River where so many cross country tourists have dipped their wheels.

I followed the river past the quaint town and along a bluff. This took me to the Colonial Parkway which made for easy navigation back to Williamsburg.

All of which is to say, if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take your there.

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

On Sunday night I stayed up late watching a movie with my wife and daughter. The following morning I awoke after about six hours of sleep. Several cups of coffee later I was driving to Solomon’s Island in Maryland to take on oppressive humidity and rolling hills aboard my Cross Check.

The first ten miles of the ride were mostly along Route 2, a four-land highway and the only major north/south road in the area. I was still a bit groggy from my lack of sleep as I started my ride. The highway had wide paved shoulders which were occasionally guarded by rumble strips next to the right travel lane.

For the uninitiated, rumble strips are sequential cuts in the roadway that run in a line parallel to the travel lanes. These particular strips were about one foot wide. These cuts resembled a tractor track like you’d find on a dirt road. Their purpose is to alert drivers that they are leaving their lane and driving off the road. Properly designed they can be helpful to bicyclists because cars that hit the rumble strip make a distinctive, loud rumbling sound. If you’re riding and hear that sound it’s a really good time to take evasive action.

After a few miles I was getting into a nice pedaling rhythm, bombing along the shoulder at 15 miles per hour when I came to a long downhill. My speed increased quickly. I looked ahead and could see some vegetation obstructing nearly the entire width of the shoulder. This debris was probably caused by recent storms.

I rather absentmindedly started to drift to the left to go around the debris when I found my bike and me shaking violently. I had drifted right into the middle of the rumble strip. I’ve ridden some rumble strips that were no more disruptive than riding on an unpaved trail like the C&O Canal towpath. These strips, however, were composed of deep cuts in the roadway. They were so deep that the bouncing I was experiencing had slowed my speed into the mid 20s.

Even at this somewhat reduced speed, the shaking was making it impossible to control the bike. My butt kept coming off the saddle. The bike started to wobble. Instinctively I reacted by veering to the left. Freed of the rumble strip, my bike accelerated straight across the right travel lane.

I peeked at my mirror and saw nothing coming in my lane but, far behind, a vehicle was indeed approaching from the passing lane. Just as I was about to cross the dashed stripe into that lane I managed to get control of the bike and steered hard to the right, across the rumble strip, and onto the shoulder, well beyond the pile of debris.

This was the closest I’ve come to a high speed crash on a bike in years. It scared the crap out of me. I am very lucky that both travel lanes were empty when the rumble strip ejected my bike and me.

It took my several miles to calm down. In about 30 minutes the route took me across the highway onto back roads. Although these roads were quite hilly, unlike the highway, they were shaded. Temperatures had climbed into the low nineties. The high humidity made it feel like over 100 degrees.

There’s nothing quite like grinding up a series of steep hills in sweltering heat and humidity to take your mind off a homicidal rumble strips.

Evening the score

A few weeks ago I drove to Easton, Maryland on the Eastern Shore to do a clockwise ride from Easton to Oxford to Saint Michaels to Easton, using a ferry to get from Oxford to Saint Michaels across the Tred Avon River. As luck would have it the ferry was not operating so I had to back track and take a land route.

The weather forecast for yesterday was promising so I decided to give it a second shot. This time I checked online to make sure the ferry was running. Not wanting to do things exactly the same I decided to ride the loop counterclockwise. This resulted in me riding all kinds of extra miles trying to get out of Easton.

Once on route the way to Saint Michaels was pretty straightforward. Highway 33 is a two-lane, 50-mph affair. The road lacks shade which turned out to be a bit of a problem as the day wore on. The road has huge shoulders with very little debris and the cars kept close to the speed limit.

After checking out St. Michaels, a very cool town with many old residences along narrow lanes, I decided to head further along US 33 to Tilghman Island. After passing a few golf courses there wasn’t much to see. Farms and estates lined the highway. Each had a long straight, tree lined driveway to a posh house. One exception to this style of homestead was a geodesic dome house next to the road.

Geodesic home sweet home

The only hill of any sort was the ten-foot rise on a drawbridge to get to the island itself. Not exactly Alpe D’Huez.

Waiting for the drawbridge. The woman in front of me was very fast.

Once on the island I kept riding until I reached a gate blocking the road near a U. S. Navy installation. The trip from St. Michaels turned out to be 16 miles. I took a few minutes to check out the Chesapeake Bay and have a snack before heading back the way I came.

The Chesapeake Bay south of Kent Island

After passing back through St Michaels, I turned toward the Bellevue-Oxford Ferry. The ride to the ferry was along a sleepy, windy, mercifully shaded country road. When I arrived at the ferry pier I saw no cars in line, indicating that I had just missed the eastbound ferry. No worries, with no cars in line, bicyclists and pedestrians are supposed to pull a rope to activate a simple signal to tell the ferry that you’re waiting. The signal is a hinged board painted yellow on one side. It opens when you pull the rope. (How they see this signal in fog is beyond me.) As soon as I pulled the rope, a car pulled up. It’s a bit like lighting a cigarette to bring a bus to your stop on a cold winter day.

Call signal deployed

The ride across the river was pleasant. The breeze off the water felt great. It grew stronger as we went. I looked over my shoulder back west toward the bay and saw why. As late afternoon approached a summer storm was building over the bay. No time to dawdle.

Crossing the Tred Avon River

As soon as I disembarked in Oxford, I hopped on the CrossCheck and rode as fast as I could directly toward Easton. This mean I was lopping off some of the route through farmland east of town, but the notion of being out on the road for a fierce summer storm did not float my boat.

Normally, I cruise along at 11 to 12 miles per hour. My ride from Oxford to Easton was more in the 18 to 20 mph range. As luck would have it the road I was on went directly back to where I had parked my car. After getting the bike and my gear configured, I drove a mile to a gas station convenience store. I was inside about five minutes. When I came out the skies opened with cold, hard rain.

The whole ride ended up being 65 miles, considerably longer than my previous ride here. Now that I’ve evened the score with the ferryman, I want to come back and explore some of the side roads in this area.

Turning

Nothing makes you feel older than seeing an odometer click over. Because I ride a lot and split my riding among four bicycles, I see several odometer events every year. Today, my Crosscheck clicked 13,000 miles, for instance.

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I think it may be time to get new brake pads, don’t you?

Earlier this summer I went to the National Mall to see a projection of the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket on the Washington Monument. It was pretty cool.

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While I was out of town, the Smithsonian celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 by having the rocket take off with all kinds of extra audio and video stuff. It was a real crowd pleaser. I didn’t mind missing it though. I was a space junkie when I was a kid. I saw Apollo 11 live.

Another thing I saw live as a kid was the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I wasn’t much into music at the age of eight but my older brothers were. When one of them yelled down the cellar stairs that the Beatles were on, the rest of us scrambled up to see the big event. I had no idea why they were so worked up. I was expecting to see some sort of beetle act, after all Ed Sullivan had novelty acts on all the time.

As I watched the performance, I didn’t get the big deal. They looked strange and sounded even stranger. They sure seemed to be having fun though.

I never saw them live of course. And I have shied away from those Paul McCartney arena shows because hearing him sing now is a bit depressing. But when my friend Paul asked me to join him to see Ringo at Wolf Trap I decided I might as well go.

The show featured about nine or ten Ringo songs and 12 songs by his band which included three members of Toto and one each from Santana, Men at Work, and the Average White Band. In fact, the AWB member was Hamish Stuart who toured with McCartney’s post-Wings band.

Ringo is pushing 80 but seems much younger on stage. He runs around a bit and even did some jumping jacks while clapping his hands to the beat of a song.

The crowd was gray and white.

Lately, for some strange reason, I’ve had the urge to rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight.

April in my rear view mirror

After a week of mourning and activism, I need to move ahead. Dealing with the sudden death of a friend is always very hard. Seeing the incredible outpouring of love for Dave in the local community (and beyond) has been amazing.

I pulled up a bunch of old Flickr pictures to share with friends on Facebook. I had said in my last blog post that I’d known Dave for five years. The pictures say that it’s more like ten. I had forgotten how many rides we did together.

He may be gone but like Tom Joad he’ll still be here.

A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody.”

But unlike Tom Joad, Dave had an enormous soul. And his passing leaves a our one big soul broken.

When I heard the news, I didn’t even want to look at a bike, much less ride it thousands of miles. That feeling faded with dozens of tearful hugs from friends over the last week.

My Errandonnee activity came to a screeching halt however. It just didn’t seem right to continue. Most of my rides in the last week were to and from DC to visit the site of the crash twice, go to a happy hour with mutual friends, and attend a rally at the District Building (city hall) to call for the city to up its game to keep vulnerable road users safe.

Near the end of the month my Cross Check’s odometer hit 12,000 miles. I put it away and switched to The Mule for the rest of the month.

Ironically, on my first ride to the crash site, I found out that the brakes on The Mule were nearly useless. When I got home I tried to put new brake pads on the bike but the hardware on the 28-year old brake mechanism was so rusted that I couldn’t get one of the old pads free of the caliper. Fed up, I took the bike to my local bike shop where they swapped out the old cantilever brakes for new mini v-brakes. Afterwards I could skid my back wheel. A vast improvement.

The planning for my tour continues to march ahead. The expected start date is now May 16. Launch will occur from the small town of North Judson, Indiana instead of Chicago. This is because Mrs. Rootchopper will be driving me there in her new car. Her 15-year-old car was burning oil like a bad diner cook. Speaking of diners, North Judson has an awesome one that I will hit up before departure. During Lent, they make killer paczkis, which Dave, who lived in Chicago and its environs before moving to DC, would have appreciated.

I have built a decent mileage base, riding 868 miles in April. So far this year I have clocked 2.609 miles, mostly in 30-mile days.  That, and riding 1,300 miles from Indiana to Colorado, should put my legs, not to mention engine weight, in good stead for the climbing during the middle of the trip.

My long ride of the month was a 64-mile jaunt to Bethesda and Potomac, Maryland. A few days ago I did a hilly 39 miler. I also rode to six or seven baseball games at Nationals Park. The rides were better than most of the games. Blame the bullpen.

Last night on the way home from the last game of April, I spooked a yearling in the dark along the Mount Vernon Trail. It bounded along the trail ahead of me for a few hundred yards, its white tail dancing in the white circle of my headlight.

On to May….

 

 

 

 

Errandonnee 2019: They give awards out for this

My doctor’s office is in an office building near an interstate highway in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s 10 miles from my house. I rode there for my 10:30 appointment. The first half of the ride was on the Mount Vernon Trail. Then came some city streets in Old Town Alexandria. I climbed the hill in the bike lane on King Street. The installation of the bike lane created a big ruckus, with one of the homeowners along the street actually raging about it in the Wall Street Journal. From what I can tell, the bike lane works fine.

I turned onto Janney’s Lane which becomes Seminary Road. I followed painted bike lanes and sharrows for a couple of miles, sharing the road with vehicles big and small.

Not one of these bike lanes is protected. They are just paint. It’s a wonder that when I pulled into the parking lot at the doctor’s office building I saw a bicyclist leaving. He told me that the only place to park was at the railing in the front of the building. And so I did.

Errand No. 7

Category: Personal Care (1st use)

Place: Doctor’s office (I’m gonna live!)

Observation: The League of American Bicyclists calls Alexandria a Bicycling Friendly City at the bronze level. I think it should be called a bicycling tolerant city, at best. Over a month ago I gave some remarks to the Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board about a dangerous intersection. The Board voted unanimously to remove a sign and replace it with a No Turn on Red sign. The old sign is still there.

Not very awesome bike parking. Note also the pollen on my handlebar bag. Achoo!

 

Errandonnee 2019: Shoppin’ and Shaggin’

With rain holding off until evening, I took a muggy ride this morning. I stopped at my local Safeway to buy three things: castile soap (for my bike tour), oatmeal (for my bike belly), and Woolite (for my holey sweaters). They only had oatmeal. It’s not a very good store. So I rode three more miles to the bigger Safeway at Belle View Shopping Center where I scored all three items.

After that, I rolled up Fort Hunt Road past the Belle Haven Country Club. I suck at golf but some of the members of this club make me look like Tiger Woods. I picked up three golf balls all within five feet of each other on the side of the road.

The rest of the ride involved spotting scores of eastern red bud trees in bloom. At one point I saw a lilac blooming and took a big whiff for my favorite scent.

Whatever my Cross Check and I are doing, it’s working. I am riding faster and with more comfort than at any time since my bike tour.

Errand 5

Category: Shopping (2nd use)

Place: Belle View Safeway

Observation: If you shop by bike at my local Safeway, you get to lock up next at the loading dock. At the Belle Haven Safeway, you get to lock up at a stop sign. Such is the life of a cyclist in car-loving Fairfax County, Virginia.

Errand 6

Category: You Carried WHAT on your bike? (1st use)

Place: On Fort Hunt Road next to the Belle Haven Country Club

Observation: Technically, this category is supposed to be used for carrying odd sized items like a rug or a sharpened lawn mower blade. But hear me out. I’ve been collecting golf balls (and a few tennis and baseballs) for years during runs and bike rides. One of my sisters contracted cancer years ago. She and her oncologist were golfers. So she told him that she once she was cured (she was), she’d take him out on the course and kick his butt (I don’t know if this ever happened). Ever since I have been shipping my golf ball bounty to her.  Conveniently, my Carradice saddle bag has side pockets that hold four golf balls. I have 15 golf balls already this spring.

A Year by the Numbers

It was a whopper of a year for me on my bikes. I pretty much shattered every personal record.

I rode a total of 11,837 miles, 1,926 miles more than last year.

I averaged 32.4 miles per day.

I rode 309 days, taking 56 days off. I never took more than 3 days off in a row.

On my riding days, I averaged 38.3 miles.

I rode 4,300 of miles on my Any Road Tour from Mount Vernon, Virginia to Portland Oregon.

June, all of which was tour riding, was my highest mileage month: 2,260.5 miles.

My longest day was 136 miles from Morehead, Minnesota to Gackle, North Dakota on June 18.

The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Sequoia, accounted for 46.5 percent of my riding, 5,502.5 miles. 281 miles of my riding were done indoors on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, mounted on a trainer. Most of this riding was in recovery from medical problems in late December 2017. I only rode the Tour Easy 1,099.5 miles in all. I’d sell it except for its usefulness indoors.

My Bike Friday New World Tourist took me 2,001 miles. It’s fun to ride but it beats me up because it’s little wheels don’t absorb road shock particularly well.

My Surly Cross Check soaked up another 3,234 miles, just riding around the DC area.

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Year end Odometer Readings

The Mule: 51,024

Big Nellie (outdoors miles only): 42,010

Little Nellie: 21,002

Cross Check: 10,668

Total: 124,704