Re-setting

Cognitive Re-setting

Some people recently gave us jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are a torment. They lie there on a table, unfinished mocking our puny little brains. Yesterday I put the finishing touches to a 1000-piece puzzle that my wife, daughter, and I started over the weekend. Something happened, more than once, during the solving that is intriguing to me.

Late one Saturday evening when I was in college, I was grinding away at some calculus homework. I liked math in school because I regarded it as solving puzzles. This particular day I was making good progress when I hit a wall. I looked at a problem had simply could not figure out how to solve it. After a half hour of frustration I quit. That night I went out and partied. The next day I woke up with a hangover, rolled out of bed, and looked at the calculus problem laid out on my desk. The solution came to me instantly. I sat down and knocked off the rest of the problem set without the slightest difficulty. Somehow, over the course of the previous 15 or 16 hours my brain had re-set.

Over the years I have become a daily crossword puzzle solver. The same re-setting process happens all the time. I’ll get to a point in the solving when noting seems to come to mind, or worse, I know the answer but can’t retrieve it from my brain. (I think this is called presque vu.) If I put the puzzle down, and come back to it an hour later, the answer, more often than not, pops into my head.

The same thing happened when solving the jigsaw puzzle. On Sunday night I hit a wall. I couldn’t fit one more piece. On Monday, the pieces started falling onto place. Then I got stuck again with 75 pieces to go. Off to bed. The next day, all the pieces seemed to fall into place, literally and figuratively. (Oddly, since I was making a picture, literally and figuratively mean pretty much the same thing.)

Cinque Terre jigsaw puzzle complete. (One piece is missing but I found it on the floor after taking this picture.)

Is there some neurological explanation for this sort of re-setting?

Infrastructure Re-setting

Whenever I see pictures of bicycling infrastructure in The Netherlands I get envious. They build beautiful bridges and inter-city highways for bikes there. We have some decent trails in the DC area. In fact, I can pick up a trail near my home and ride with only minor on-road interruption to the eastern front of the Blue Ridge Mountains all on paved trails. Most of the route is along the Washington and Old Dominion Regional Trail, a very popular resource in these parts. The trail is along an old railroad right of way that has frequent, at-grade street crossings. One of the more dangerous at-grade crossings is at U.S. 29 near the Arlington/Falls Church border. This also happens to be one of the busier crossings on the trail. A few days ago, a new bridge was built over the crossing. They did this one right. Instead of doing things on the cheap, the designers built us one splendid looking bridge. In addition to looking fab, it has a concrete surface, attractive side barriers, and lighting. And its WIDE.

The Mule approves of the new W&OD Trail bridge.

Re-setting Winter

Winter in the northern hemisphere runs from December 21 to March 21. Meteorological winter in DC runs from December 1 to the end of February. As far as weather people are concerned, we’re in spring now. Last week we had a string of days with temperatures in the 70s F bookended by a couple of 60-degree days. Freed of my cumbersome winter riding gear, I gleefully rode 228 miles. Then reality hit and temperatures dropped back into the 40s and 50s. A month ago these temperatures wouldn’t have bothered me at all; I’d just put on layers and go for a ride. Now, having had a taste of the good life, I have retreated to the basement.

Even the neighborhood Bernie is having a hard time re-setting to winter. Her put one some earmuffs.

Bernie making the best of a false start at Spring. Pink is his favorite color.

Trails to home

Today was the first day since the before times that we allowed our bi-weekly cleaning service back into our house. This meant that my wife and I didn’t have to spend a good part of the day cleaning. It also meant that we needed to get out of the cleaners’ way. Normally, we would go to a diner then a library. With that off the table (or booth) my wife made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Why don’t we drive someplace, I’ll drop you off and you can ride your bike home?”

Sounds like a plan to me.

So we jumped in my dusty Accord and drove to Purcellville, Virginia at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I would ride east 45 miles on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail back to Arlington. There I’d pick up the Four Mile Run Trail for a couple of miles before turning south on the Mount Vernon Trail.

With the pandemic still in evidence, the drive to the start was uneventful. I left my wife to check out the bakery at the trailhead. (Thumbs up on the eclairs, she reports.)

I expected the ride to be mostly downhill. It is. Purcellville is at 575 feet whereas the low point of the ride near National Airport is at 15 feet. Of course there are a few long grades both up and down along the way, as well as a few abrupt rollers to keep things interesting.

What I wasn’t counting on was the headwind. Having an invisible hand on my chest put a damper on my speed. I did do a few miles at 18 to 20 miles per hour but not as many as I had hoped.

The trails were not crowded at all, except for one group of eight old folks out for a meander. Old people suck. Oh, wait….

Anyway, a few minutes delay is not much to complain about.

I had two small energy bars left over from my 50-States Ride goodie bag. That’s all I ate. I was surprised that I didn’t bonk. I also drank two large water bottles. Maybe my modest intake is to blame for the cramps that came on during my post-ride stenosis physical therapy session.

Outside Purcellville I saw a momma and a young deer. They were too shy to be photographed. Later I saw a Dad with his daughter examining a box turtle that had inched onto the trail. My final critter of the day was a rather large groundhog that was standing at attention a foot off the trail in Vienna. It seemed not the least bit concerned about me as I rode past.

The trees are turning. I had hoped for more reds but today offered more browns and yellows. One big leaf decided to hitchhike on my front wheel causing a racket when it got stuck between my tire and fender.

I was sorely tempted by the breweries and brew pubs along the trail. There seems to be one every five miles or so. You could get a serious buzz on if you stopped at each one.

East of Vienna the trail is undergoing work. There’s a detour that I couldn’t quite figure out but once I got straightened away, I found it: a on-road protected cycletrack (two lanes, one in each direction). Well done. In Falls Church city, the trail is being doubled to accommodate traffic. (I wonder if people opposed the trail when it was being built, thinking nobody will use it. Can’t imagine what they’re thinking now.) The detour around the construction is on road and unprotected. There’s hardly any car traffic so no worries.

At the eastern end of the Falls Church construction is a new bridge that will take the trial over North Washington Street and do away with a dangerous at-grade crossing. It looks like the bridge is nearly done. It’ll be a huge improvement.

Back on the street near home, drivers weren’t allowing me to move over to make a left-hand turn. I kept riding straight and overshot my turn. Before doubling back I could see the line for early voting at the government center down the street. Yesterday the line extended nearly a half mile along the sidewalk. Today, it was considerably shorter but my wife says that’s because people were a bit more bunched together. These two days brought to mind the lines at the polling place on election day 2008 when the prospect of the first black president brought an incredible turnout.

It’s been a while since I did a point-to-point ride, the stuff of bike tours. DC-area trails are limited in coverage and connectivity but if you play your cards right you can ride 57 miles and do 54 1/2 of them without a big metal thing breathing down your neck. Not a bad way to avoid a cleaning crew if you ask me.