It’s Not the Heat; It’s the Blossoms

People keep asking me what the best part of my bike tour was. I honestly don’t know. I’m still processing it. I did a quick review of my blog posts and was surprised at all the things I had forgotten. I’ll probably write a postmortem soon.

In the meantime, I am back on my bikes. While The Mule is in transit from San Francisco, I’m re-familiarizing myself with my other steeds. A few days ago I took my CrossCheck out for a twenty mile spin. It missed me.

Yesterday, the CrossCheck and I hit the road to check out the sunflowers at the McKees-Besher Wildlife Management Area in nearly exurban Montgomery County, Maryland.

The ride began with a trip to Friday Coffee Club. It was good to be back among my two-wheeled peeps. At about ten a.m. the last of the worker bees headed off to their respective offices and I made my way to Georgetown and the paved Capital Crescent Trail. After a few miles I cut over to the unpaved C & O Canal towpath. For several miles I dodged mud puddles. The surface was ridable but the CrossCheck was getting mighty grimy.

As I passed under the capital beltway, my sunglasses obscured the view of the towpath in the shadows. A chunk of the right side of the towpath had completely eroded by an epic rainstorm last week. Had I not slid my sunglasses to the tip of my nose, I could easily have crashed.

A few miles later I rode past a rather scary looking section of the towpath at Mather Gorge, where the river runs fast. In this section the towpath runs between the canal and a cliff above the raging boulder-strewn Potomac River. The Park Service had narrowed the path and banned cars (usually just maintenance vehicles). I duck walked part of this section not wanting to fall into a big mud puddle or over the side into the rocks far below.

From Great Falls Park the towpath alternated between perfectly passable to some of the nastiest washboard I’ve ever ridden. The washboard wasn’t like tractor tracks. The rains had carved erratic channels across the path. The CrossCheck became a bucking bronco when I hit them. I am a bit surprised I didn’t damage the bike in the process. I made it across but I may need to see a dentist soon.

The canal itself was in decent shape. I saw dozens of sunbathing turtles including a huge snapper who was splayed across a log. Three great blue herons stood motionless in the canal right next to the towpath. I didn’t bother trying to take a picture because as soon as I stopped they were sure to fly off.

I left the canal at Rileys Lock and headed toward the Poole General Store in Seneca for food and water. It was closed. No bueno.

Since there was no alternative I headed west on hilly River Road toward the sunflower fields. The hills here normally wipe me out but all that climbing out west made them seem trivial. Running out of breath was not about to happen either. The warm, humid air felt almost liquid. The residual effects of being at altitude made deeps breathing unnecessary.

I walked around two of the three sunflower fields. The sunflowers seemed to be in a state of morning with their head bowed. Still, from the proper angle, they put on a decent show.

After about an hour I headed back home. This involved a ten mile roller coaster ride on River Road to avoid the towpath and find food. At Potomac Village I went into a grocery store and bought water, a sandwich, and a yoghurt parfait. It didn’t begin to dent my hunger but I decided to ride on and find something else later.

After descending the long, windy hill on MacArthur Boulevard at Great Falls Park I cruised along flat canal road all the way to DC where I stopped at a gas station for a Gatorade. (Gone in 60 seconds.)

All day I had noticed a clicking sound coming from my right pedal. At the gas station I noticed that the platform of the pedal and become disengaged from the pedal axle. I was holding the pedal together with pressure from my foot.

The remainder of the ride took me across Georgetown, down and across the Potomac, and into Crystal City where I attended an outdoor happy hour. Cold beer tasted pretty good at this point.

The ten mile ride home was a wobbly affair. My legs were done, but I was pleased with my day’s work. 86 miles in all.

Today, I rode to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in DC to check out the lotus blossoms and water lilies. Because of the pedal problem on the CrossCheck, I rode Big Nellie, my Tour Easy long wheel base recumbent.

My legs were pretty beat. I stopped after four miles to buy some new pedals. They sold pedals with toe clips and straps already installed for $3 more than naked pedals. Sold.

The ride along the Mount Vernon Trail featured oncoming weekend warriors and tourists who kept passing as I approached. Fortunately for them, I left my bicycle death ray at home.

Into DC, I made my way across Southwest and near Southeast until I crossed the Anacostia River at 11th Street.

I followed the river and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail upstream for several miles until I found the unpaved path to the Aquatic Gardens. The place was fairly crowded. Music was blaring from a stage. Both aspects didn’t appeal to me. I like quite with my lotus blossoms, thank you very much.

 

After walking around the ponds, I was drenched in sweat. I headed home, retracing my route along the bike trails. People kept tempting me into head on collisions all the way home. “Sorry.” “Oops.” “My bad.”

Head. Table.

I stopped for a quart of Gatorade and an chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. At home, I fought the urge to go inside and collapse. I spent a half hour swapping out the pedals on the CrossCheck. I also cleaned the towpath dirt off the bike and lubed the chain. Ready for another ride.

Tomorrow I am going hiking. I am hoping that the hiking poles that I bought before my tour, help my wonky hip and knee make it through the day without pain.

 

 

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: 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.

Errandonnee 2019 – Three Errands in One Day

The 2019 Errandonnee started today. I left home before dawn riding my Surly Cross Check 14.5 miles to Friday Coffee Club. There was an ever-changing cast of characters and cranberry scones. Bueno.

Errand Number 1

Category: Social Call (1st use)

Place: Swings House of Caffeine, 17th and G Streets NW, DC

Observation: Friday Coffee Club regular Pancho Bate and the Canadian children’s folk singer are dopplegangers. Pancho confirmed that the comparison has been made for decades.

I left at about 10 and headed homeward for a weight lifting session at the gym. My wonky shoulder behaved for a change and I survived the ordeal.

Errand No. 2

Category: Personal Care (1st use)

Place: George Washington Rec Center, Fort Hunt Road and Belle View Boulevard, Fort Hunt in Fairfax County

Observation: On the way I picked up my 12th golf ball of the year. Belle Haven Country Club has more hookers than a truck stop.

From the gym I rode to Village Hardware, the best hardware store in northern Virginia. I bought a spray can of primer to cover some water spots on the ceiling of our Florida room.

I was going to do a fourth errand but it started to rain. I wasn’t dressed for wet weather so I called it a day. Three errands down, nine to go.

Total miles so far: 30.

Getting Back in Shape

My body has had a tough winter. For a few weeks I was really falling apart. I couldn’t stand up straight. I walked with a pronounced limp with pain in my left knee and hip.

Setting Aside Little Nellie

It occurred to me that my back pain was probably caused by the impact shocks I get while riding Little Nellie. Those little wheels don’t absorb much of the hit from countless tree roots on the Mount Vernon Trail. (The National Park Service is starved for money and their maintenance has really gone south in the last two or three years.)

I switched first to The Mule, then to my Cross Check, both of which have normal sized wheels (700c x 35 for the bike nerds). My back responded almost instantly to the softer ride on The Mule. When I switched the Cross Check some new back and knee problems cropped up. I re-measured the seat height and the distance from the saddle to the handlebars. The seat was about 1/2 inch higher than The Mule’s. After I adjusted it, I took off. The Cross Check’s bigger gears were just what my legs needed. I feel like my old self again.

I rode it to Friday Coffee Club today. The strong, persistent tailwind made me feel like a bike god. The ride home was a bit challenging but I actually enjoyed fighting the wind. I am back to my old commuting mileages. My last 8 days were: 30, 23.5, 45.5, 28, 31, 32, 32, and 30 miles (252 total). A couple more weeks like that should put me in decent touring shape.

Cross Check at Dyke Marsh
The Cross Check at Dyke Marsh on the Mount Vernon Trail

 

Working Out Off the Bike

I am also doing on alternate days: yoga, weight lifting, and physical therapy exercises including some with a foam roller. I don’t much care for any of these but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Shopping

My pre-tour shopping spree has begun. I’ve bought mountain bike shorts, glasses (clear and polarized, both progressive for map reading while on the bike), Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, Croakies, Koolstop brake pads, and a combination lock. (I am trading off weight for some security but I can’t recall ever having someone try to steal The Mule while on tour.)

The other night I attended a presentation by Jim Sayer, the Executive Director of  Adventure Cycling. Adventure Cycling makes the maps that I use. Jim’s presentation really helped get my head back in the game. Jim talked up La Route Verte, the bike touring network in Quebec. This is definitely going on my to do list. The website is amazing. (And it’s in both English and French, of course.) I need to do a key word search for “black flies” though.

And just to add to the preparations, spring arrived in DC. It may be temporary but two 70 degree days are just the tonic. I rode in shorts and a t-shirt today and it was bliss.

 

 

 

We interrupt this winter…

I rode 32 miles today. In shorts. It was 70 degrees F during the ride.

I’ll take it.

Oh, and this happened.

CC11000

My Cross Check went all Nigel Tufnel and turned 11.

Time to put this bike away for a while and switch to one of the others.

Tonight was the State of the Union Address. No mention was made of the most important event on the horizon: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a week.

 

 

Sunrise and Coffee

Only a complete idiot would get up before dawn and ride 15 cold miles for a cup of coffee. Yep, I’m your man.

Friday Coffee Club is my excuse for getting my ass in gear once a week. It’s also my excuse for a nap about five hours later.

I was unable to locate the battery for The handlebar bag on The Mule obstructs a handlebar mounted light so I pulled my CrossCheck down off its hook, slapped a headlight on its handlebars and rode off into the cold and dark.

I made it to the Duke Marsh bridge and was happy to see no ice on the boards. I stopped to check out the predawn light over the Potomac.

The ride to DC featured a headwind but I didn’t much mind because my legs were feeling strong after taking yesterday off.

Friday Coffee Club was in fine form. Ricky brought some homemade pumpkin banana chocolate chip bread. Poncho sported his new merino wool Phoenix Bikes jersey. Joe showed off his new screaming yellow jersey. Steve O describes his icky sinus surgery (I had to ask!). Andrea described how to tell male baked goods from female baked goods.

Fellerino checked his batwatch. It said rain was approaching so I headed for home. Of course, I got caught in the rain but the tailwind more than made up for the dampness.

Nap time beckons.

Willis Carrier is a god

It’s not the heat. It’s not the humidity. It’s BOTH.

I have been trying to adapt to the heat and humidity here in DC for the last month. I was totally spoiled by warm, dry days in the Pacific northwest for the better part of a month.

Yesterday, I decided to get my yayas out and did a ride I do every year. It’s the Whites Ferry century. I leave from my house and ride to Whites Ferry Maryland about 35 miles up the C&O Canal then take a cable ferry across the Potomac River. I pick up the W&OD trail in Lessburg Virginia and ride home. It’s flat but the 33 miles on the C&O towpath are unpaved. This means you use the same muscles for the entire ride.

Image may contain: sky, tree, plant, mountain, outdoor, nature and water

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

When I left it was actually comfortably warm outside. Withing two hours the heat and humidity increased. By the time I left the shade along the canal, I could tell it was getting mighty uncomfortable. I stopped in Leesburg to have lunch in an air conditioned bar, opting for Diet Coke over beer. The bartender must have refilled my glass ten times. Well, done, my good man.

I was pretty much gassed after 90 miles but made it home on fumes. 101 miles in total.

Today’s plan was to mow the lawn, then work on my bikes (including cleaning off the towpath dirt off my CrossCheck). I walked out the front door and it felt as if I were hit by a hot, wet towel. I hadn’t mowed half the lawn and my clothes were drenched with sweat. It only took a little over and hour but I looked like I had jumped in a swimming pool when I was done. I wish!

I gave up on the idea of doing work on the bikes. Suffice it to say that Willis Carrier is my favorite inventor.

In a few hours I was in a movie theater watching “Juliet, Naked”. No it’s not a porno. It’s based on the novel of the same name by one of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby. I ate all the salted pop corn and drank a “regular” soda. (Regular means a quart these days, apparently.) The movie was shown in a new theater with comfy seats. Bliss.

I lived my first 28 years in the northeast. Up there you go to the movies in the daytime when it’s too cold or nasty to do anything outside. DC stands the year on its head.

With a day off the bike today, I should have fresh legs tomorrow. I’m driving to central Virginia to do a 62 mile ride on a rail trail. The heat index (what it supposedly feels like) will be over 100 degrees.

Willis, whatchu talkin’ about.

Marching to Recovery

As my body heals from the blood clots that invaded my lungs, I find myself getting stronger by the day. In fact, I feel stronger now on the bike than I did at the end of my tour or, for that matter, at any time in the last three or four years.

Some of this is from working out on a daily basis, either at the gym or doing physical therapy exercises. Some of this may be from the fact that, while I am on blood thinners, I can’t drink alcohol. Some of this may be the result of the recent tweak to my saddle position on my Cross Check. Or maybe it’s just the warmer weather. Or my the lower dose of my asthma medication. Or maybe it’s the anabolic steroids I sprinkle on my Cheerios in the morning. Whatever it is, I’m crushing it on the bike.

In the last seven days, I rode 240 miles, including a 57 mile day followed by a 41 mile day. I feel like I can go forever and climb any hill. And I am riding about two miles per hour faster than I did last fall.

For the month of March I rode 750.5 miles, 24 miles per day. I took four days off. On the one of those two days, I did a six mile hike. On another I stood on concrete for 5 hours at the March for Our Lives in DC.

So far this year I’ve ridden 1954.5 miles, about 80 percent of it on my Cross Check. I have ridden 281 miles on Big Nellie in the basement, just to make sure I didn’t crash on icy streets.

And I completed the Errandonnee.

And I did two interviews with the local newspaper. The first was about plans for a new bike trail in our area. (The article is on page 3.) The second one, which happened yesterday, was about my bike trip to Key West.

April has lots of fun in store, including the first event ride of the year, my first ride to a Washington Nationals baseball game, a visit to my pulmonologist, and (I hope) finalizing plans for my summer bike tour to the west coast.