One Way on the WOD

I’ve really been cooking with gas on my bikes lately. It always takes me a few months after winter departs to get my mechanics working right, but the last week I’ve been riding like a boss. After ten consecutive days of riding over 30 miles a day, I popped a 52 mile ride on my Surly CrossCheck. My route took me up to DC where I rode up Rock Creek Park to Bethesda. After a couple of miles of connecting roads, I hooked up with the Capital Crescent Trail for the return. Beach Drive. the main drag through Rock Creek Park, is closed to through auto traffic in the upper half of the park. This is a positive pandemic dividend. I hope the National Park Service continues this policy because it’s a beautiful ride.

Near the end of yesterday’s ride, the CrossCheck hit 20,000 miles. As is my practice, I am now switching over to other bikes for a while.

Today, The Mule got the call. My wife and daughter drove me out to Purcellville, Virginia where the Washington and Old Dominion (WOD) trail has its western terminus. I bid them farewell and headed for home.

The WOD is about 45 miles long. (A few detours here and there add about a half mile by my odometer). Since it starts at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains the ride loses about 545 feet along the way. The decline isn’t constant, but there are long stretches of gradual downhill that allow for riding at a respectable clip.

A couple of hundred feet from the start of the ride I noticed that my riding position on The Mule is much less aggressive than my position on the CrossCheck. I decided to try an experiment. I adjusted the tilt of the saddle down just a bit. At first it felt strange to have additional weight on my hands. And my butt seemed to have been raised much more than it actually was. After about three miles, I didn’t notice the difference at all and I seemed to have much better power transmission to the pedals.

Dang was I riding fast. I think I had about a 2 mile per hour increase in cruising speed.

To be honest, making a tweak to your riding position before riding 50 miles is not a particularly good idea. But for me. it work out okay.

The more I rode, the more my body liked the new position. Cruising along at 20 miles per hour is not at all normal for me. I blasted through a tunnel of green for ten miles before stopping at Leesburg for a Mule photo op.

As I rode the din from the Brood X, 17-year cicadas was my constant companion. From time to time I heard other summer bugs such as the annual cicadas. The Brood X sound is a low pitched drone coming from the tree tops; the annual bugs make a higher pitched sound that seems to be only a few feet over your head.

The best part of the WOD is the ten miles from Purcellville to Leesburg. After that, development encroaches on the trail corridor. For those of us who remember when much of this area of the corridor was farm land, this change in scenery is a bit depressing.

It is what it is so you just keep rolling along. I past a few turtles in the Ashburn. Later I east of Vienna I saw a deer eating grass on the fringe of the trail. No worries.

Trail traffic was light probably because of severe weather that had raised the humidity noticeably since yesterday.

I booked along through Sterling and Herndon and Reston. Vienna came and went as did Falls Church where some major trail work caused a half mile on-street detour. It brought to mind the fact that I have very little idea what this area looks like beyond eye sight of the trail corridor.

I ran out of WOD in Arlington and stopped for a couple of other photos, one of the trail sign and the other of the Weenie Beenie, an Arlington culinary institution for decades.

With the WOD conquered. I switched to the Four Mile Run Trail which took me three miles further east to the Mount Vernon Trail at National Airport. Turning south on the MVT, I made honest work of the last nine miles. My pace had slowed but by this point my brain had shut down and The Mule and I were on autopilot. Every few miles I had that how-did-I-get-here feeling.

Did I just ride 110 miles in two days? Why am I not crippled? A month ago I would have sworn that my 65-year-old body couldn’t stand a bike tour anymore. Now, it’s telling me “You still got it, kid.”

Scrape, Ride, Paint, Ride, Level, Ride, Dig, Ride, Watch, Read, Ride, Rest

April was a mixed bag of work around the house and riding. Most days I spent a couple of hours on a project in the morning followed by an afternoon jaunt on my bike.

Projects

I finished two projects. One involved re-painting a steel stoop. It was in rough shape seeing as how the last time I painted it W was president. (Or was it Clinton?) Most of the work was prep. Scraping and grinding and sanding for hours on end. I thought it would go on forever. The actual priming and painting took only an hour or so each. The second project involved fixing some landscape timbers that had been undercut by a giant surface root from a volunteer silver maple. The timbers see saw if you stepped on them. I had the option of cutting the root or working around it. I ended up leaving the root alone and raising the timbers using some bricks I had lying around. It looks okay but will probably only last a year. This took only a few hours. mostly excavating and cogitating.

While this was going on, we had a tree company come and take down two trees, a diseased white pine and another silver maple. The tree crew also removed a couple of Russian olive bushes that were distressed. (They were growing sideways.) The tree folks ground the stumps leaving me the task of cleaning up the aftermath. This involves a great deal of digging and raking and even some root chopping. The soil is mostly clay so this turns out (I am still working on it) to be exhausting work, especially in the recent 80+ degree heat.

I began the month riding The Mule then switched to the Cross Check. After a week on that bike, I’ve moved back to Big Nellie, freed from her basement dungeon. It took a few rides to get my bent legs back but now I’m having a good time banging out one 30-mile day after another.

Miles

I managed to ride 862 miles, or just a tad under 29 miles per day. Last year I only did 772 miles in April so I feel like I’m improving a bit. Year to date I’ve ridden 2,891 miles compared to last year’s 2,906 (which included a leap day). Even though I am 397 miles off the pace for 10,000 miles I am well within reach of another 10,000 mile year, because the big mileage months lie ahead.

The Mule hit 61,000 miles during the month. That’s pretty good for a bike I was going to get rid of 21 years ago. Glad I kept it.

Watching

We watched The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I thought it was kinda meh. I did like Erin Kellyman as the chief baddie. We also watched Concrete Cowboy, a strange movie about horse riding in a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia. Basically, we’ll watch anything with Idris Elba in it. This one literally put me to sleep though.

My Octopus Teacher won the Academy Award for documentary feature. Entertaining. Octopuses are pretty strange critters.

I also watched nearly all of the Washington Nationals games. I am still not comfortable with going to a game in person. The mostly cool weather only reinforces my reluctance. Klarence, who had yet to be vaccinated, went to one game and said it felt creepy being there with a socially distanced crowd. (She had her first shot a few days after.)

Speaking of shots, I received both my Pfizer shots in March and became fully immune on April 1. I am old enough to have had vaccines for smallpox, polio (one shot and one sugar cube, if I am not mistaken), measles, mumps, shingles, pneumonia, tetanus, and influenza. If vaccines were dangerous, I’d have exploded years ago. Go for the jab, dear readers!

Reading

I only read two books this month. One was a 730-page biography of Sam Phillips by Peter Guralnick. It was overlong and repetitive, not nearly as good as the author’s Elvis and Sam Cooke bios. Still Phillips was quite a force in modern music as he was the first person to record Sly Stone, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich. He also recorded Bill Justis playing the song Raunchy which is a guitar instrumental. John Lennon was so impressed with 14-year-old George Harrison’s version of Raunchy (played on the upper deck of a bus in Liverpool) that he brought him into the Quarrymen. Phillips’s recording techniques were crude but innovative. The rest of his life involved radio stations and such and wasn’t very interesting.

The other book was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. It’s a series of case studies of neurological patients with truly strange behaviors. I read this when it came out 35 ears ago and loved it. This time around it didn’t hold my attention.

Stenosis Update

One would think that with all the digging and raking I’ve been doing that my back would be deteriorating by the day. Not so. My stenosis pain has been mostly in check. I do have to take stretching breaks during my digging/raking work but I have to say that I am rather shocked that I’ve made it this far without screaming pain in my back and legs. (The stretching I do is a simple runners stretch involving leaning against a wall and stretching my calves, hamstrings, and glutes. I think it also decompresses my discs.) I took the last day of the month off and went for a two-mile walk. After a quarter mile, my lower back started to ache a bit but the pain didn’t build and I managed to complete the walk without much difficulty.

Looking Ahead

May holds more of the same. Summer bike touring is on hold until I see how the pandemic plays out. Also, my daughter is moving to law school in early August so I need to be home to help with that. After that, maybe a week-long tour of sorts in August followed by a month-long tour this fall. (New Orleans seems like an interesting destination.)

The Mule Turns 30 and 61

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.

Getting Stooped

Anytime you ride 40,000 miles in four years, something has to go by the wayside. I have neglected my house and yard now for a long time and it shows. I have so many projects to do in the months ahead there is no point in making a list.

The first job on my backlog is to re-paint the metal stoop outside our kitchen. I last did this a couple of decades ago> I did a poor job and the paint never looked good. It’s been a rusty mess with lots of chipped paint for years.

Last week I spent three two-hour sessions washing and scraping and sanding and grinding away at the mess. I also fixed some rusty holes using some epoxy. I did the best I could before saying “no mas”.

Next up was priming. The weather here was absolutely perfect for bike riding but alas I was back at the stoop. It is a cruel coincidence that perfect riding weather is also perfect painting weather.

First, I taped off the area. Next I rode Little Nellie to the hardware store for primer, a mini-roller and a brush. The last time I painted the stoop I used a brush. It was a frustrating mess. This time I started to prime with a small roller and was shocked at how much better the roller worked than that old brush. The horizontal surfaces all have a texture to them supposedly to impeded slipping. Getting paint on all sides of the textured surface was impossible with a brush but it was super easy with the roller.

As I primed I could see cracks in the paint that I had missed during prep. I did what I could to fix these. No doubt I’ll be re-doing some of this later in the year.

Unfortunately, I ran out of primer so I jumped back on Little Nellie and returned to the hardware store. The upside to this misadventure was that I now knew how much paint to buy for the top coat. So I bought that too.

The rest of the priming took about 20 minutes.

Priming and painting are infinitely more rewarding than prep. I had spent about six or seven hours doing prep and felt like I had accomplished nothing. After an hour or so of priming I felt like I was cooking with gas.

Today was the last step, the top coat. Last time I used black gloss paint. It was slippery and didn’t adhere well at all. The hardware store paint guy said that black satin would be a better choice and would not be as slippery, so that’s what I used. It took no time at all to paint the stoop. The only problem was the fact that the daylight was such that I had trouble seeing where I had failed to completely cover the primer. So once I had painted the entire thing, I walked around and looked for spots where I could see primer peeking through the top coat. After 15 minutes of this I declared victory.

All that’s left is to take off the painter’s tape.

In celebration The Mule and I went for a ride among the blossoms in Alexandria and Arlington. Cherry trees are fading. Red Buds are taking over. After that come lilacs and azaleas. Also, the deciduous trees are leafing. Soon the Mount Vernon Trail will be a tunnel of green again. This will obscure the three bald eagle nests between my house and Old Town Alexandria. Two of these nests are quite active. The third seems in need of a tenant.

My next project involved a big tree root. No chopping though. Stay tuned for all the excitement.

2020 – One Last Recap

It was such a fun year!

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 YearOdometer MilesMiles Ridden
Specialized Sequoia60,0204,003
Tour Easy44,2431,459
New World Tourist22,598600
Cross Check18,2214,180
Total145,08210,241

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.

The Mule Turns 60

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.

Rebound

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.

Heroes, Piedmont, and Walking Naked

For 13 days in a row I rode my bike. Sometimes long, sometimes short. Sometimes level, sometimes hilly. Sometimes flat, sometimes pumped up.

Yesterday I pulled another cue sheet from a ride in the Virginia Piedmont, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d done this ride and portions of it before. I know it is hilly but it is also scenic so why not.

The area I rode in is just west and south of the ride I did a few days ago in Hunt country. In fact, there’s a three or four mile overlap. I started in the town of Marshall and rode south on curvy, hilly country roads to Waterloo. Then I turned on to Leeds Manor Road and headed north through Orlean, Hume, and over Naked Mountain.

I rode past Sky Meadows State Park and east on US 50 (can’t get away from the damned thing) to Upperville. The last 10 miles went through Rectortown (part of the Hunt ride) back to Marshall. 55 miles in all.

The ride started with a bike equipment tragedy. My Zefal XP frame pump slipped off the hood of my car in the parking lot in Marshall. After hitting the pavement it would no longer contract enough to fit to the frame of my bike. I think the tensioning spring must have broken. I’ve had this pump for over 20 years. It died a hero.

While I am on the subject of equipment, I want to mention the bicycle computer I recently bought for The Mule. It’s a Cateye Padrone. It meets my two primary requirements for a bike computer. First, it displays 6 digits, allowing me to keep up to 99,999.9 miles on it. (The Mule is currently over 57,000 miles.) Second, it allows me to enter my mileage in from my old odometer.

This would be great if the damned thing was the slightest bit accurate. I have looked down at my computer while rolling and seen 0 mph displayed. I’ve also seen it tick of miles while I am at a stop light. Finally, the Maximum speed function usually displays something above 60 mph. All that said, it’s distance function is accurate withing about 3 percent. It recorded yesterday’s distance at 53.6 when the cue sheet says 55.2. So I upped the diameter of the bike wheel in the computer buy three percent to compensate.

The best part about the ride was the fact that the countryside is totally verdant. Through the winter months I long for green and now I have it. Ahhh.

The low light of the ride was Naked Mountain. I did this beast once on Big Nellie. How I made it to the top I’ll never know. It’s steep and bumpy and lung busting. The last time I did it I had to stop a few times. Yesterday I stopped at the base of the mountain to have a snack and some water. Then I started the long grind. I made it about half way before my lungs were tapped out. After a short rest I started again. In a few hundred yards my lungs were gone. So were my calf muscles.

I walked the rest of the mountain. Even that hurt my legs. Other than last summer’s sufferfest, it’s the first time I’ve walked my bike up a hill in 30 years.

Thankfully, for every climb there is a descent. The Mule abides.

I didn’t take many pictures yesterday bit these will give you an idea of the landscape.

The Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance
The Mile stops to take in the view near Hume
Near Rectortown at the end of the ride.

I’ve done 462 miles in the last 13 days. There’s one thing I can’t understand: on a bike tour, carrying 40 pounds of gear, I do 462 miles in a week and I’m not tired. Must be the gas station food.

After five miles doing errands, I have put my bikes away and am taking the rest of today off.

Zzzzz.

Away and home

60 miles a day for days on end while carrying 40 pounds of gear. This is a normal day on tour. At home this would be torture.

I’ve ridden carrying no more than 5 pounds for 17 days in a row. Mostly on flat terrain. I am beat up and tired. I cannot figure it out. Partly, the fatigue has to do with riding Little Nellie. The small wheels on my Bike Friday beat my body up. It’s fun to ride because it’s twitchy and nimble but after a couple of weeks my back starts going into spasm.

I had intended to exploit today’s perfect weather here in DC by going on a monster bike ride. Last night I had a couple of minor back spasms. Then I went to sleep only to wake up with stomach cramps. This turned out to somehow be connected to my ingestion of sour dough bread last evening. I know this  because I had sour dough toast for breakfast and my stomach went nuts.

After lazing about for the entire morning, I set out on The Mule to see if my body would respond favorably. It did. I was riding about 10 percent faster. I could barely feel the tree root bumps in the trail. The weather was perfect. The only negative thought I had was whatever will I do when The Mule dies? It fits me so perfectly.

When I got home, I sat on my deck with a glass a merlot. I did the crossword puzzle while listening to a baseball game (Nats won 7-2 over the Cubs) on the radio I  received for my birthday. Bliss.

Tomorrow is another perfect weather day. Mrs. Rootchopper and I are joining a couple of friends for a morning hike on Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. I get to try out one of my birthday presents, a new Osprey backpack. (I tossed my WalMart fall-apart backpack. I hated that thing.) Afterward, I shall retire to the deck for more radio baseball. (Our TV is out of commission as a result of the renovation to the man cave.)

Next week I have nothing planned and some awesome weather. I think I shall take The Mule out to the country for a long stroll.

No Name Tour: Day 49 – 8,000 Feet, 94 Miles, 40 MPH, and a Ton of Hemoglobin

Last night’s improvised lodging worked out great. Dan, Spencer, and I went our for burgers and beers then I hit the hay. I awoke at 1:30 and looked out the window. Not a cloud in the sky just so many stars that Carl Sagan would be pleased.

The early morning view of the lake was nearly as amazing.

The lodge unexpectedly provided motel breakfast. The lodge owner told me to expect a few more climbs before the road tips toward California’s Central Valley.

He was right, of course. The first hill was rudely a mile into the ride. How dare they?

A few miles later was a 1,000 foot climb back up to 7,900 feet. Sleeping at 8,000 feet seemed to help me get over this hump. There was a third climb of a few hundred feet after they then The Mule could take off.

I stopped a few times to admire the view.

At Hams Station I considered eating second breakfast. The restaurant has both open and closed signs displayed. If they couldn’t decide I wasn’t going to give them my business. I rode past Cooks Station a few miles later but by then I was looking to break 60 miles by noon, so no dice.

After about ten miles of descending the route at 25 to 40 mph, I turned off the main highway. No more rumble strips. No more direct sunlight. The narrow, two-lane, shaded country road now had patches and small potholes all over the place. The shade made it hard to tell where they were. I had to slow my roll down into the teens. So not fair!

Every so often I’d get rambunctious and let The Mule loose… until I hit a rough section. My back took the worst of the bumps.

At Omo Ranch I started seeing farms. Soon thereafter I saw miles and miles of vineyards, each with a tasting room. I didn’t give into temptation.

At Ono Ranch an elevation sign said I was at 3,612 feet. This was the first time since Kansas that I’d been below 4,000 feet.

In Mt Aukum I stopped for lunch at noon at a cafe. It was just shy of 50 miles for the day. Still not a bad morning’s work.

Back on the bike I was passed through a few gigantic vineyards then found myself passing fields of tall, golden grass. The occasional field had some cattle in it but they wanted nothing to do with entertaining me. Instead they looked up, momentarily stopped chewing, then returned to their mastication.

I stopped again at tony Rancho Murieta where I saw a text from my Warmshowers hosts. It suggested a route to their house that completely bypassed Folsom to the north, saving me at least 15 miles.

They were leaving the house at four do I decided to see if I could get there before they left. It was then that I realized that i was now about 60 feet above sea level and my legs seemed supercharged. Hemoglobin is a wonderful thing.

I arrived at Fay and Robs place just as they were leaving. They left me food, beer, and a swimming pool. So far I’ve taken what was behind door number 1.

Tomorrow will be my approach to San Francisco. I plan on riding through Sacramento, Davis, Vacaville, and Fairfield. If my legs will agree I’ll ride all the way to Vallejo, the point of departure for the ferry to the City. Then, on Friday morning I’ll set sail for the Ferry Terminal and a reunion with my bikeDC friends Jessie and Mike.

Today’s miles: 94.5

Tour miles: 2,875.3

Top speed: 40.1 mph