- The streets in London are smooth. I didn’t see a single pothole or patch.
- The Underground is more than 100 years older than DC’s Metro. And it seems infinitely more reliable.
- Underground trains come every two minutes. There is no crowding on the platforms because there’s no time for a crowd to accumulate.
- With that level of train frequency, why would you ever want to drive?
- I wonder how many billions of dollars we could save if DC’s Metro trains ran every two minutes.
- Horn honking in London is not much of a thing, mostly because drivers seem to obey the rules. (Truer still in Stockholm.)
- I didn’t hear anyone cuss out a cyclist in my seven days. They often use bus lanes and the bus drivers just go with the flow.
- Bromptons are very popular in London.
- Bike theft is apparently a problem; people lock their bikes with serious hardware.
- People in London walk fast. They seem to be underdressed for the temperature.
- I have yet to figure out if walkers should stay to the left or the right. When on an escalator, you stand on the right.
- Footbridges across the Thames are the best. They seem to be about the length of the Key Bridge between Rosslyn and Georgetown.
- I don’t quite understand why the platforms and the train floors are not at the same level. “Mind the gap.”
- You can actually understand the announcements in the tube stations and on the trains. I wonder if they could send someone to DC to teach Metro personnel how to pronounce “L’Enfant Plaza”.
- Curbstones are not nearly as high as in the US. And the buses come right to the very edge of the curb.
- I’ve now been to five left hand drive countries. It still confuses the hell out of me.
- I was hit by a wrong-way cyclist on a one-way street in Boston when I was in college. I now look both ways all the time, regardless of traffic flow. Without this I would have been roadkill in London.
- The entire time we were in London, the temperature varied only about 10 degrees F. And it was warmed than DC despite being at the same latitude as Labrador.
For the first time in a year, I took a week off my bike. My wife, daughter, and I went to London to attend my daughter’s graduation from King’s College masters program in International Conflict Studies.
Last Thursday we took a red eye from Dulles to London. The plane was a 787 Dreamliner and it was a dream for British Airways profit margin. Economy class had nearly no leg room which is not a good thing if you are tall and have a history of pulmonary embolisms as I do.
Also, the air circulation was lousy. Within an hour I was sick as a dog. This really ticked me off because I had just recovered from a cold a few days before our departure.
When we got to London, my left knee, hip, and lower back ached. My daughter is the travel expert and knows how to get around London better than she does DC. So we proceeded to walk nearly 8 miles before succumbing to the time change. By the time we ended the day walking to and climbing Primrose Hill I could no longer stand up straight. Ugh. We finished the day walking 6.9 miles. (By the end of the trip we had walked 44 miles. Ironically, switching from my hiking boots to my black Clark dress shoes made a huge difference in my comfort. Go figure.)
In addition to her graduation at the Royal Festival Hall, we hit beaucoup sites including:
- The British Museum
- The Millennium Bridge, a new-ish footbridge across the Thames. Here we talked with Ben Wilson, known as Chewinggumman. He makes intriguing mini-paintings on the remnants of chewing gum along the bridge.
- The Tate Modern Art Museum where we saw all manner of exhibits purporting to be art. (Including a urinal that was less artistic than those in the men’s room)
- St. Dunstans in the East, the ruins of a church (designed by Sir Christopher Wren) bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. It’s now a garden with walls.
- The Monument to the Great Fire of London, 1666. The fire was started at a baker’s home on Pudding Lane.
- The Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This included a fun boat ride on the Thames. It was fun to stand on the Prime Meridian.
- The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Piccadilly Circus. (Sadly, after we were back in the hotel room, I learned that Neil Finn had played about 2 miles due north of our hotel.)
- The Churchill War Rooms, a warren of underground offices and living quarters where Churchill ran the war effort during the Battle of Britain.
- The Seven Dials
- Covent Garden
- The Natural History Museum
- Westminster Abbey
- Regents Park
- Primrose Hill
We skipped the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower Bridge because we had done them before.
We saw a taxi protest during the evening rush hour. How they managed to get taxis side by side lined up for three blocks in the core of downtown is a mystery.
For food we ate at:
- Dishoom (twice) for the ladies’ favorite breakfast with bottomless chai. The vegan granola is to die for.
- Pizza Sophia, a cozy pizza place near our hotel that dispelled my hatred for London pizza from a previous trip
- The Marquis Cornwallis, a pub two blocks from our hotel, for fish and chips and lager. Twice.
- Nicholson’s Pub in The City (the old part of London). More beer and food. Walking fuel.
- Nandos, because I’d never eaten there before. Underwhelming.
I didn’t ride a bike, but there is bikeshare everywhere including dockless MoBike. Feel free to ride them but good luck with the left hand drive thing.
We stopped at the Brooks Store. It’s heaven. (Unfortunately, they confirmed for me that they do not make a longer adjusting bolt for their leather saddles, leaving me with two saddles about to run out of adjusting room.)
The temperature barely changed the entire time we were in London. It was in the low 40s F every day. We were rained on once or twice but it was a light, misty sort of thing.
The flight home was another BA 787. This one had some leg room, thank god, but the air quality sucked so I got sick again.
After a day of rest, I’m heading back to the basement for some recovery bike riding on Big Nellie.
Lots of pix on my Flickr page.
After two months of dithering, I have finally started to sketch out my battle plan for 2017. I have only a couple of solid commitments to deal with and the rest is flexible.
- Volunteering – because every time I see Michelle (WABA’s event manager) I feel guilty.
- Vasa Ride – I’ve done this ride several times during the event and on my own or with others during the summer and fall. It’s well worth doing and you should give it a go. I mean when was the last time you had warm blueberry soup?
- Tour de Fat – I am a trained beer puller. I have two hours of Tour de Fat beer pulling expertise. It would be a shame to let my skills evaporate like beer suds.
- Family Events
- Holy cow, my daughter’s graduating from Butler University. Woot! (This one is not at all flexible.)
- Family reunion – this is in the middle of July.
This is a much shorter list than usual but has two new (to me) rides.
- Car-Free Skyline Drive – I just heard about this today. It’s a brutally hilly road but, well, no cars! Also, I totally suck at hill climbing.
- Bike to Work Day – probably my last one. Not because I don’t like the ride but because I am retiring in August.
- Tour dem Parks – A ride around Charm City (Baltimore) that has very good word-of-mouth reviews. Also I might get to meet Eleanor (who was a bun in the oven the last time I was in Baltimore) because I hear she is swell.
- 50 States Ride (my 10th!) – Need I say more?
So far, I have committed to an exhibition game against the Red Sox on March 31 and an Orioles v Red Sox game in April in Baltimore. I blocked out on my calendar all the weekends that the Nationals are at home. If you want to go to a game with me, I am tolerable company. I can provide references. Also, I will shamelessly accept any tickets you get comped or otherwise stuck with. Also, there are two road series against Philadelphia. I might drive up for a day game just for the hell of it. Wanna ride shotgun?
When the Nats are not playing I have free weekends. So these are all potential hiking days. My white board list of hikes is pretty similar to last year because I failed miserably at hiking last year. Doh.
- Potomac Heritage from Turkey Run to Chain Bridge and back
- Thompson Hollow Loop
- Buck Hollow/Mary’s Rock
- Double Bear Rocks
- Stairway to Heaven
- Broad Hollow/Pine Hill Gap
- Loudon Heights/Split Rock
- Jones Run/Doyle River
- Corbin Mountain
Mostly these are in the mountains to the west. If you live in the DC area and don’t mind getting up at the crack of dawn, feel free to come with. As with biking, I may be old but I am slow.
I could also use these non-Nats weekends for bike trips. Maybe an out and back between Williamsburg and Richmond on the new-ish rail trail.
Foreign (?) Travel
My daughter is thinking about going overseas for grad school so this would be an excellent excuse for a trip. If she goes to school in the US, this will require a college move-in road trip. Also, my son may still be in Thailand next winter. I wouldn’t mind seeing the place when it’s not pouring rain.
Since I am retiring in August, I am saving up my annual leave for a big check. Once I get the 50 States out of the way, I think I might ride somewhere warm. Key West sounds like a good destination. The rough plan is to take the Adventure Cycling Atlantic Coast Route about 1,500 miles to Key West, take a ferry to Tampa, ride across Florida to Miami and take Amtrak home. I figure this will take about a month to do. This would be the warm up for the big one in 2018 which will probably involve riding to the Pacific Northwest.
Also between my birthday and the 50 States Ride I may have time for a short tour. I have no idea what that might entail. Maybe a road trip to rail trails in Virginia. Or the Grand Canyon of the East.
The year began with a paper lantern rising in the post-midnight sky over Old Town Alexandria. I hoped it was a sign of good things to come. Here in no particular order are the highlights of what followed:
Around the World in 19 Days: When your kids move to the other side of the world, you have a perfectly good excuse to go visit them. We flew via LAX to Sydney to meet up with our daughter who was studying abroad at Macquarie University. We explored Sydney, Uluru, and Melbourne in Australia and Rotorua in New Zealand. Then we flew to Thailand where our son now lives, teaching English at a school in Phuket. We flew back via Abu Dhabi and JFK, completing our trip around the world. Speaking of travel….
Six Days without a Plan: I did my first bike tour in ten years, riding 370 miles from Pittsburgh to home, nearly entirely off road in six days. Kevin and Ryan made for good company. The Meth Man not so much. Earl and Anne, two friends from my years in Boston, met up with us for Mothers Day brunch. And we saw the Pirates execute a triple play at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Speaking of baseball….
Where’s My Ring?: I pretty much went all in as a Washington Nationals fan this year. I attended 8 or 9 games (one was a rainout) and watched dozens more on the tube. In the process I discovered the wonderful bike valet service at the ballpark, bottles of ice water (mostly ice) sold outside the stadium, and SeatGeek, a web service for cheap seats. Sadly, the Nats completely fell apart in August and September ending with the sad display of a bad apple reliever choking the eventual league Most Valuable Player. Speaking of things surly…
Getting Surly: My bikes were getting old. And so was I. So I decided to buy a new one, just for riding events and such. I bought a Surly Cross Check on the enthusiastic recommendation of a half dozen friends who own one or wish they did. I’m still working on giving it a name. My fleet of now four bikes carried me over 7,000 miles this year. Speaking of mileage….
Turning the Odometer: I hit 60 in August. My brain still can’t believe it but my body does. Denial only gets you so far in life. I celebrated by hiking Old Rag. My advice is to do this hike long before your 60th birthday. Mrs RC made me with a quilt from my old running t-shirts. This totally surprised me with it even though she made the thing right in front of me. Still, turning 60 was inescapably depressing. Speaking of depressing…
Goodbye Blue Mondays: I started the year dealing with rather severe depression, not the “I’m sad” kind but the clinical kind. It’s a drag just thinking about it. I forced myself to socialize (see below), ate vitamin D supplements (I had a severe deficiency), and began daily meditation at the repeated suggestion of a friend. You could say that when it was over I had become comfortably numb. Speaking of numbness…
My Right Foot: I also started the year with a mysteriously numb right foot. I saw a neurologist who was incredibly enthusiastic, competent, and beautiful about my case. She sent me to a physical therapist who gave me a set of exercises including bird dogs, side planks, and nerve flossing that I still do every other day. On a whim, I went for a Thai massage. It didn’t do a thing for my foot but it was just about the most relaxing 90 minutes I can recall. “Use your third eye, John.” I also went to an acupuncturist who didn’t do a thing for my foot either. He did fix a pain in my upper arm and recommended some orthotics for my shoes. Speaking of shoes….
Ramping Up My Hiking: After each of my hikes last year, my back and knees were killing me. The second I put the orthotics in my shoes, my back felt better. I did ten hikes this year, most of them in Shenandoah National Park and a little further north on the Appalachian Trail. All but one were solo hikes. The exception came when Ultrarunnergirl kicked my ass all the way to the top of SNP and back. My knees and back hardly protested. Speaking of protests…
What’s a Park It?: Bike riders in DC had been getting hit by cars turning illegally through the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. I attended a protest that was designed to bring awareness to the fact that new barriers called Park Its had not been installed on two blocks of the avenue. The protest was successful (the Park Its were installed a few months later) and was a great opportunity to get together with friends old and new. Speaking of new friends…
Do I Even Have a Fusiform Gyrus?: Three months after apparently meeting me at a December 2014 holiday party, a woman walked up at a post-ride reception and said “Hi John.” I had no idea who she was. She later said I needed to have my fusiform gyrus checked out. So began my improbable friendship with Katie Lee. A few days later we spent four hours in a booth in a downtown tavern. Two peas in a pod, pod people you might say, engaged in an incredibly intense conversation. I felt as if I had caught lightning in a bottle of Shiner Bock. On my way home for the first time in months the fog of my depression had lifted. Like a paper lantern. I know a sign when I see one. Thanks for showing me the score, KL.
Encore, you say?….
Sitting in the Lap of the North Wind: A year or so ago, Mrs RC bought me a CD of celtic sounding music by a Quebec folk group called Le Vent du Nord. As luck would have it, they played very small venues near DC twice this year. We were in the second row for both performances, practically in the lap of the foot drumming, song singing, fiddle player. Even though I studied French in high school and college I can’t really follow their lyrics but I have no trouble enjoying their hurdy gurdy fueled music. Tres bon.