Shamu’s Test Commute

I haven’t been on a bike since the Snowzilla storm. So today I went for a ride to see what my commute will be like next week. The day began with an impressive amount of black ice in my driveway. My solution was to do puzzles all morning. I managed to get all but the Scrabblegram which Mrs. RC and I have taken to doing. (Worst part is finding out that answers often include completely bogus words)

I used The Mule because it is my bad weather bike. I had to roll it through some snow in the back yard but that took all of three minutes.

Every street along my normal route to the Mount Vernon Trail was clear with the only problem areas where homeowners had shoveled snow into the street earlier in the day. Why people do this when they have a front lawn to throw the snow on is beyond me.

I arrived at the Mount Vernon Trail, took one look and gave up. It is a glacier. Just like it is every year. Thanks to the National Park Service, the only trail owner that doesn’t even try to plow or treat area trails. (They own significant real estate in the city. They don’t plow there either.)

I climbed up the hill to Fort Hunt Road, the only alternative to the trail. This took me to US 1. A trail connects US 1 to Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria. The first 100 yards of the trail were covered in plow residue. VDOT or Fairfax County couldn’t be bothered to clear the trail, I guess.

If you think that is too much to ask, you are wrong. Once the trail crosses into Alexandria city, it is totally clear. I tag on Alexandria a lot about being hostile to bicyclists but whoever is in charge of plowing did a great job here.

I took the streets through the western part of Old Town. I crossed over the rail line at Slaters Lane and US 1. The sidewalk here is also a bike lane. It was cleared quite adequately. Another round of applause for Alexandria.

I rode Monroe Street (kind of a melting mess) to Mount Vernon Avenue, the main drag through the Del Ray neighborhood. No problems. I made my way to the trail along Four Mile Run. The trail on the Alexandria side was impassible because of a creatively crappy plow job that ended in a snow bank.

I walked around this mess and hooked up with the Four Mile Run Trail on the Arlington side of Four Mile Run. Arlington done good.

Here I bailed out on the trails. I had gone 10 miles and I was tired. I spent the last week shoveling and eating. I feel like a whale and my shoulder muscles are still incredibly tight.

I headed back to Old Town via Potomac Avenue and its new side trail. All was clear sailing. Alexandria. I retraced my path to Fort Hunt Road and slogged my way up two hills trying hard to stay out of the sand and salt that had accumulated on the edge of the asphalt. Most roads in Virginia lack a paved shoulder so you can pretty much count on wrecking your drive train if you bike around here in the winter.

I made it home, a total of 20 1/2 miles. Not bad for my first day back. Tomorrow is supposed to be a 60 degree day. That should take care of the problem areas I discovered today. It will take a week of warm temperatures or a responsive and responsible Park Service to clear the Mount Vernon Trail. Alas, the smart money is on the weatherman.



Passing the Audition, My Cross Check not VDOT

After yesterday’s successful shakedown ride, I had to take my Cross Check out for a longer romp. So far the bike feels wonderful, especially during the first 30 miles. I might need to tilt the handlebars up a tad to avoid shoulder fatique but, compared to the dial in process for my other bikes, this is going really well.

After toying with the idea of driving to the country, I decided to ride from home. I headed south to Mason Neck State Park. Door-to-door this is about a 45 mile round trip. To up the mileage, I did a mile-and-a-quarter lap in Fort Hunt Park. I was riding at 16-18 miles per hour without a big effort. This just does not happen.

Down the Mount Vernon Trail to Mount Vernon. I was stuck behind a family who were struggling on the long uphill slog to George’s house. I downshifted and blew by them. This just does not happen.

I continued pastDSCN4054 Mount Vernon, down the highway to US 1, speed in the high 20s. Across Route 1 and up a long hill on a side path. VDOT was kind enough to place an electronic sign in the middle of the path. Why they do this when they have ample space in the weedy transition between the path and the road is beyond me.

At Telegraph Road I had to use a beg button to get across the road. I would have been better off just starying on the road. I jumped on the trail on Telegraph only to find a bike lane in the road. VDOT make up your mind!

It was a long hill but I made it without medical assistance. Over the top and down and up and down and up and down and up until I reached Gunston Road, the main drag of Mason Neck. I stopped to give a lost driver directions to Ikea and then headed down toward the neck.

Gunston Road is a two-lane road with no shoulders. Many of the vehicles on the road are pulling trailers that are wider than the vehicle itself. The road dead ends at the Potomac RIver. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour. Why? Because VDOT probably thinks boaters have a need for speed or something.

After two close passes by trailers, I bailed onto Belmont Road. With no traffic, I tried riding no hands. Success! After a mile, I encountered a dead end sign. Um, VDOT, can you put a sign at the turnoff please?

Back on Gunston an SUV buzzed me, then another trailer, then a guy on a road bike. Oof.

I finally reached the abrupt dowhill and turned into Mason Neck Park. Just after turning I turned again onto a path through the woods next to the road. This is a sweet ride, made sweeter by the Cross Check’s ability to eat bumps. Curves and bridges and trees went by. Soon I arrived at the end of the line on Belmont Bay. What a pretty day.

After downing a drink, I headed back home. I took a right on Gunston to check out the quiet neighborhood on the river. New developments have sprung up along the road, but the end-of-the-road neighborhood retains its charm and style.

I did a loop through the neighborhood before heading for home. I took a left at Springfield Driveto avoid a half mile of boats and SUVs. Back on Gunston, I set my jaw and rolled. My reward was a fun, shady, curvy downhill on Old Colcheser Road. This gives way to big, sunny, ugly Telegraph Road. I endured at 30 miles per hour. Weeeee.

Going fast was fun so I took the Farirfax County Parkway. It has an enormous shoulder so this is actually pretty safe by VDOT standards. It has a side path too but who cares when you have your own 8 foot paved shoulder.

Turning off on Backlick a remnant of the pre-parkway era of crummy roads in this area, I arrived at Route 1. I was shocked to see the destruction caused by a wideninDSCN4055g project that politicians hope will improve on gridlock in this area. This will encourage still more development to the south solving not a thing in the long run.

I waited for the light to turn green but it was operated by a metal sensitive wire in the road. The Cross Check has insufficient steel to activate the switch, a fact that I could only learn after getting stiff in a very long light cycle. I noticed a beg button to the left. VDOT, this is not England. Bikes don’t ride on the left. Once the oncoming cars went through the intersection, I blew the red light.

I rode into Fort Belvoir and stopped behind a van at the security checkpoint. The van was being given a serious search. After waiting a discrete amount of time, I walked over the curb and used a different lane. I think the van was operated by the base’s security people. They were testing the thoroughness of the security. I showed my drivers license and rolled through.

Up the hill and through the base I rode. A sign said that the golf course is open to the public.Woot.

I rolled by the Officers’ Club past the roadside signs that announced a seafood buffet on Friday! Woot. Woot.

Down the hill I rode to Walker Gate. I smoked that sucker only to find for the first time since 9/11 the gate was close.

I rode across the base to the Route 1 gate which dumped me onto a three-lane highway without a paved shoulder (go VDOT!).

I reached the Mount Vernon Highway and realized that the breeze from my riding had disguised a pretty hot day. I slogged away riding the gradual uphill to Mount Vernon.

After a short water break at the end of the Mount Vernon Trail I took off downhill on the MVT. A family was riding up the hill. Their ten-year-old was struggling with his head down. He veered into the left lane. He’s lucky I wasn’t a Lancelot trying to time trial down the hill. I braked and called out to him. He looked up, realized he was in the wrong place and, with a fatigued wobble, moved to the right.

A half-mile later at Riverside Park, a begining bicyclist on a pink bike with tassles and a training wheels was riding between his mom and dad who were on foot. The three abreast left no room for any other trail users. Mom, who was on the left, had headphones in. I rang my bell. She stepped further to the left making a bad situation worse. I think this family has situational awareness issues. Or maybe they are just more important that the rest of us.  Regardless, the Cross Check had a simple solution: go overland. I swerved onto the grass and blew past them.

Thus, within a mile, I encountered two examples why kids shouldn’t ride on the Mount Vernon Trail. It’s beyond their skill level or their parents’.

The rest of the ride home, I was on fumes. Nothing to eat for four hours will do that to you. I rolled into home after 62 miles.

I think the Cross Check has passed the audition

Take a Walk VDOT

It’s been a stressful week. I only rode to work twice as a result of little sleep. I reached out to a couple of friends and they gave me interesting advice about my stress. One friend, a single woman, whose father abandoned her family when she was growing up, told me to look out for number one. The other, a father with family issues that boggle the mind, told me that I need to put things in perspective, chill, and work the problem. As it turned out the problem worked itself and I was blissfully relieved of stress at 4 pm on Friday. Even my boss telling me that a project that I had worked on for months had all but crashed and burned didn’t phase me. I rode home with a smile on my face and a mild tailwind that felt like a gale.

Today was devoted to Christmas shopping. I ordered a few things online, then headed out to Potomac Yard to battle the crowds. I used my bikey knowledge of the roads to bypass most of the traffic. The parking lot was packed. I parked far from the store, walked in, and it was EMPTY. A sales clerk helped me pick out the stuff I was looking for and I was done in 10 minutes. I was all ready for some PTSD, but I left in a state of bewilderment.

I arrived home with time on my hands. The idea of riding for riding’s sake didn’t float my boat. What to do? I called Gold’s Gym to cancel my son’s idle membership. They said, “You have to come in and sign a cancellation form.” Really. You want to hassle me when I already told you I’m not doing business with you any more? Turning an annoyance into a plus, I put on my hiking shoes and headed out to Gold’s 1 1/2 miles away. I did okay for about a mile until I came to an intersection that was recently re-striped by VDOT. There were no crosswalks at all. Fail.

I ran across the street with another walker and his dog.

When I got to US 1 I pushed the idiot walk button and waited. I stopped counting the cars at 100 as they flew past me. And that was only in one direction.

Gold’s is at the back of a parking lot with no separate pedestrian access. If you want to walk at Gold’s you have to do it on a treadmill. Is this a great country or what?

After cancelling the membership, I retraced my steps. Rather than deal with the crosswalkless intersection I stayed on the far side of the street and walked a quarter mile to the nearest crosswalk.  Just before I reached the crosswalk I came upon this:


Are you kidding me? The switchbox for the traffic light was plopped directly in the sidewalk. Look closely and you’ll see that the post for the traffic light is also anchored in the sidewalk. VDOT fail.

Incidentally, this is about 50 yards from where my wife was run over by an SUV back in 2011. You’d think they’d get their act together. You’d think wrong.

Fresh Air for the Win!

I wanted to go for a hike today. Unfortunately, 150+ miles of bike commuting put the kabosh on any hopes for a long excursion. I needed to do some errands anyway. Why not jump in the car and have a miserable time? No? Well,  I needed to break in my new shoes so I decided to hoof it to the barber shop. It was perfect weather for this sort of thing. The shoes took a little getting used to but they are a vast improvement over my other footware.

The barber did his thing, all the while telling me about his airship fetish. He’s going to decorate a Christmas tree with airship decorations. Let’s hope it doesn’t go all Lakehurst on him.

Who needs sidewalks?

From the barber shop I decided to truck on over to pedestrian hostile US 1 to buy a new coffeemaker. My old one had sprung a leak about a week ago. So I made my way north-ish on Fort Hunt Road. The sidewalk disappeared leaving me facing oncoming cars. Oh, joy.

After a couple of blocks though a side path appeared. This is what Fairfax County calls a trail. It is asphalt and tree routes. A total mess. It was better than walking on the unpaved shoulder of the road.

Leaf Riot

If you’re going to take your life into your hands you can at least admire some pretty fall foliage. The DC area is just past peak foliage but there is still much to ooh and aah at. Lucky for me there is a sidewalk on at least one side of Sherwood Hall Lane. I used it. After about a mile, I made it to a cross walk only a block from where my wife was run over in 2010. After looking both ways, I started crossing. I got about half way across when an approaching motorist honked at me. I stopped and turned at him and mouthed saucy epithets.

Safely across the street I made my way closer to US 1. About a block away, the concrete sidewalk gave way to crappy asphalt on dirt. Why can’t one of the wealthiest suburb in the US build proper sidewalks?

Memorial to fallen pedestrian

To cross US 1 in a crosswalk and make it to a continuous sidewalk I had to take a left through a crosswalk on my sidestreet, take another left to use the crosswalk to traverse US 1, take ANOTHER left to cross the re-cross the sidestreet to get to the continuation of the sidewalk. Along the way I saw a memorial for a pedestrian who was killed (by a Fairfax County police officer driving a police car, no less). When I got across US 1 I gave up on the 3rd crosswalk and just used the street. There you have it. Someone gets killed and they still can lift a finger to make an intersection safe for pedestrians.

I made may way through the parking lots to the store and bought my coffee maker. I took a different route back. Along the way I encountered an intersection that had been recently stiped and paved. Not a single cross walk to be seen. HOW HARD IS IT, VDOT?

Division of labor

I made it home and saw that Mrs. Rootchopper had come outside to do battle with the yard. She seems to like raking leaves. There are plenty more so come on down and help her out. I am sure you’ll have a blast. (In the division on labor at the Rootchopper Institute, I do lawns and snow shoveling.)

So I walked about 5 miles. The verdict on my shoes is thumbs up. They aren’t perfect but they are quite a bit more comfy that my old Dunham boots. I hope to give them another go on Tuesday or maybe next weekend. Oh, and the coffeemaker does the job.

New coffee maker - yay!