Little Things

Hello there.  In case you’re worried about my two week absence, I’m still doing my thing – slowly taking over the cycling world one blog post at a time.  Of course if you’re a There And Back Again Premium Member, you’ve been following my exploits on Facebook and seeing exciting content that never makes it into this blog, like pictures of bikes under a tarp at Wal-Mart and an exciting feature where I equate my cycling mileage for the year to its corresponding year in history.

Premium Memberships are currently available at no additional charge to subscribers of our regular blog service.  In case you are not aware, you may subscribe to our regular blog service by hitting the “Follow” button on the right side of this page or by simply stopping by here from time to time.  To become a Premium Member, simply like this page on Facebook.

That’s right, this is a long-winded and circuitous attempt to increase the number of likes on my Facebook page!

The Salt Ride

As for cycling, the rides have been few as of late due to the very cold weather and snow we’ve been experiencing.  Sunday offered a great respite from the cold and I managed to get a fast 30 mile ride in on salt-covered roads.  And that would be the main story from this ride – salt.

Northern Virginia isn’t used to heavy snowfalls so when they come, the road crews go at their jobs with gusto.  Their only tool seems to be the application of stupendous amounts of salt to the roads.  So much salt is used that days after the roads are cleared, their residue is to be found everywhere, including cars which are now caked with it and the streets themselves which still have it on their surface.

I took a picture of the salt on the road with my iPhone.  When I got home I noticed my finger had covered up half the shot.  It doesn’t look like I’m ready to make the switch to iPhone photography on my rides.

Back to salt.  Salt on the roads takes two forms, the small hills that collect around intersections and the thin layer of dust that accumulates on road shoulders.  The hills can be easily avoided; the thin layer less so.  Basically, the layer of salt dust doesn’t present a problem other than turning your tires white, but it is important to know that you are not actually touching the road because of this layer.  At high speeds, this can be a very significant issue.  On Sunday, I definitely began noticing an odd sensation during a 30+ mph descent.  I got the sensation that the bike was floating, much like when NASCAR drivers report their car is “feeling loose.”

I didn’t care to extend the experiment further to see what would happen if I pressed things, so I dialed it back a bit on the downhills.  That’s too bad because I had a fast ride and would likely have logged one of my best times ever on this course.

Exciting Developments In The Neighborhood!

Last week I was excited to discover my humble neighborhood would once again host a sprint triathlon (of course, Premium Members already know this – hint!  hint!).  Before I got back into cycling, this annual event was a mild curiosity for me.  I would pass the athletes and grumble to myself (good naturedly, of course) that one lane was closed for this event, thus slightly inconveniencing me as I drove my car on my weekend errands.  When I got back into cycling in 2010, I eagerly looked forward to the next triathlon, only to discover that it was cancelled.  Apparently, too many of my neighbors had similar grumbly feelings and actually acted upon them, thus banning the event.  Well, somehow, someway, it’s back!

A two mile downhill pedal to the start line will be quite pleasant for me.  The triathlon is a sprint, meaning the distances are fairly short.  It’ll feature a half mile swim in Lake Montclair (where presumably the pontoon boats will be kept at bay by race officials), a 12.9 mile bike ride, then a 5k run.  Very doable and very fun on the last Sunday in June.

How To Be A Road Biker Video

Since I’ve done a terrible job with illustrations in this post, let me add a little color with this humorous video that is making rounds on the web.  It lists 27 steps to becoming a road biker.  I have successfully completed 19 of them.  I’ll let you guess which ones I need to finish.  Hint:  the bike pictured in Step 1 is the exact same model that I own (except for a different saddle and handlebar tape)!

Zipping Along

brentsville road

Monday was a pleasant day with a high in the low 50s and a modest breeze.  It was also Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I took advantage of the time off to squeeze in a zippy 26-mile ride near Brentsville.

I say “zippy” because I resolved to go fast.  Well, “faster” is probably a better word.  My average pace always takes a dip during the winter months and things aren’t helped when I take significant breaks to take photos.

A word about timing is in order here.  I know many people turn off their ride computers when they take a break.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not how I roll.  Literally.  When I start my ride, the clock starts with it.  The clock doesn’t stop until I’m done, regardless of how many traffic lights, lunch breaks, or photo sessions may arise.  It may be weird, but at least its consistent.

So even though I know the cold will affect my speed and I know the frequent breaks will decrease it some more, I still don’t like that fact.  Every so often I decide to push things a bit and today was that day.  So there won’t be many pics here, but to be honest it’s not a terribly interesting route.

I did take a pic while crossing Cedar Run, near Brentsville.  In the water, you can make out the shadow of the photographer.

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About a mile later I came across Broad Run and took a similar pic.  I decided to play with the colors on this one to help bring out the greens and make it look less dreary.

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And since I was feeling artsy, I tried an unusual photo angle on the Broad Run bridge. I didn’t notice it at the time, but those three bags are Sunday editions of the Washington Post.  How they ended up together on this bridge is anyone’s guess.  The black tape is a similar mystery, though less unusual.

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The breeze I spoke of was at my back on the way home, which made for some quick times.  One of my Strava segments was at a pace of 20.8 mph!  I was then immediately deflated when I saw that was only good for 28th all time.  Still, anything over 20 mph for me means I’m either going very fast or hanging onto the bumper of a car.

Old Man Winter is scheduled to make a reappearance tomorrow, so it will probably be a few days before another ride is possible.  Until then, I’ll stare at my digitally altered picture of Broad Run and tell myself Spring is right around the corner.

Gloom Ride

Quantico CreekBack in college, this time of year was referred to as “Gloom Period.”  It got its name from the fact that things were pretty gloomy around the place.  There wasn’t much to look forward to and the weather didn’t cooperate to raise our spirits.  Christmas was over and the decorations had come down.  Summer (Spring, for that matter) seemed a long way off.  The sky was gray, the buildings were gray, and our uniforms were gray.

You might say it was gloomy.  We certainly did.

Anyway, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are all at various stages in our gloom period.  Here in Virginia, things are more brown than gray, but it’s still difficult to imagine warm days in the saddle.  Heck, we just got through dealing with something called a polar vortex.  So in honor of Gloom Period, pictures from Sunday’s ride are presented in black and white.

Longtime viewers will remember I pulled this stunt in 2012.  Sorry for being so repetitive.  At least I picked a different route.  I headed east to Quantico.

I had hoped to take some nice pics of the town’s marina, but it was locked behind two chain link fences.  I moved on to a small peninsula north of the marina and took in the view of the river.

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The base does a nice job of creating a park-like setting along the water’s edge.  There are many old trees which add some character to the benches and gazebos.  Here is one of them (a tree, that is, not a bench or gazebo).

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And here is a gazebo, with one of the base’s headquarters buildings in the background.

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I then zipped over to the boat launch, just a few hundred yards away.  I found a few more photo opportunities there, including a view of the power plant across Quantico Creek.  The next leg of my ride would take me to the plant.  The peninsula where the plant sits is called Possum Point.  In the Civil War, a Confederate battery was placed here that effectively stopped river traffic to Washington, DC.

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The railway bridge you see on the left is the main north-south line, connecting DC with Fredericksburg and points to the south.  Thousands of commuters use this every day.  Since bridges are an item of increasing interest, I took a second shot to better capture it.

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All this picture-taking took a lot of time and I finally decided that the bike ride would go better for me if I actually rode my bike.  I made my way off the base, rode northward through a few neighborhoods, and finally hopped onto Route 1, where I encountered The Jerk Of The Ride.

Most of my rides have at least one jerk in them.  They are either rude, ignorant, or a combination of the two.  Usually, they don’t warrant a comment, but this jerk did.  He was driving a fire truck.  I could hear him coming from behind as I pedaled northward (near the dot of the “i” in Dumfries on the map above).  His siren was blazing and he was honking his horn for good measure as he fought his way through moderately heavy traffic.  I wasn’t worried – I was on the shoulder.  It was a narrow shoulder, to be sure, but I was definitely out of the road and both lanes were open as the truck approached.

I was hopeful he would turn off his siren or at least stop honking his horn.  Many emergency vehicles do this and it I greatly appreciate that since the sirens are incredibly loud.  I put my finger in my left ear to help in case he chose not to do so.  Not only did the driver not do this, but he laid on the horn as he passed me.  In addition, he stayed in the right lane rather than moving over to the left lane.  He was so far to the right that the edge of his vehicle was on the line.  He went by me at 40+ mph, siren blaring and horn honking.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say he intentionally swerved to the right to scare me.  He missed me by about two feet.  I get it that emergency vehicles have the right of way and all other vehicles are to pull to the side of the road.  I guess the truck driver took exception to the fact that I was merely in the shoulder and not stopped, so he decided to teach me a lesson.  Lovely.

The sound, shock at seeing such a large vehicle only inches from me, the rush of air that blew me sideways, and the fact I was riding with one hand on the bike and one in my ear, made for an exciting few seconds. I managed to stay upright as I reflexively moved to the right and into a nasty section of broken glass and potholes.  I hope that those firemen went on to save somebody’s life, because the driver nearly took mine.  Jerk.

Now, where was I?  Oh yes, heading toward the power plant on the north side of Quantico Creek.  Just a few hundred yards up Route 1, I got onto Possum Point Road.  The road has a nice rural feel to it and it is a shame that it isn’t longer and that you have to travel Route 1 to get to it.  Eventually, a system of pipes joins the road and runs parallel to it.  I’m not an expert on power plants, but my guess is they carry oil to power the plant.

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Quantico Creek is a protected wildlife area and there are signs that state bald eagles nest in these parts.  I think I saw an eagle soaring off in the distance, but it easily could have been a hawk or some other bird.  I’m pretty sure the birds in the below picture aren’t eagles.  It looks like I interrupted dinner.  A bird’s gotta eat, even during Gloom Period.

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I climbed the mile-long hill near the plant, then turned around and enjoyed a mile-long descent.  I managed to cross Route 1 without further incident and made my way home, where I stopped to take a pic of the I-95 bridge over Quantico Creek.  It’s not a very attractive place and I wouldn’t want to be here at night.  But it’s a bridge and therefore worthy of your consideration.

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And here’s a picture of Quantico Creek, which is considerably more narrow at this point than in previous pics.

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At this point, I was five miles from home.  I was pleased with my ascent of the large hill on Van Buren Road. This hill used to be a huge test for me.  I was pleased to see I handled it well despite the lack of miles over the winter.  I arrived back home in good shape, having logged  a little over 30 miles.  Apart from the thirty seconds with the fire truck, it was a good day on the bike.

Here’s hoping you are finding ways to enjoy Gloom Period as well.  I have it on good authority that the weather will warm up in the coming months.  In addition to riding, I’ve taken to working on the installation of my B.E.A.R.D.  Things seem to be moving nicely on that project.  To get us back to color photography, I provide the following update:

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Dirty South 100K Harrisburg 2014 Ride Flyer

Steve:

When Matt asks for a post to be reblogged, that’s all I need to hear!

Seriously, if you’re in the area you should strongly consider this ride. By all accounts it is very unique and you will be able to ride with Matt, who is extremely cool.

Originally posted on Barn Door Cycling:

If you like rides on gravel roads, rides in forests, rides with awesome people, rides with lots of hills, rides that offer zero support, and rides don’t cost a penny then you’ll love the Dirty South 100K.

Hey, if you live somewhere around here and want to be on the DS100K STREET TEAM then print this flyer out and post it at a bike shop, or fitness place or something.  Also feel free to reblog this, facebook, google, friendster, geocities, or post this on your favorite dial up BBS.  THANKS!

dirty south 100k harrisburg 2014

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Review: Bike Snob Abroad

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As one of my many lovely and highly appropriate Christmas presents, I received the latest book from Eben Weiss, aka Bike Snob NYC.  This is Bike Snob’s third book.  I thoroughly enjoyed his first book, Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, which was an irreverent look at the various cycling cultures and attitudes in America, and I’m a big fan of his blog (which you can find on my blogroll), which takes an edgier tone on the same theme.  So I was excited to take advantage of the recent cold weather brought about by the polar vortex and see what he had to offer in this tome.

Like I said, I’m a really big fan of Bike Snob and find his philosophy on cycling to be very refreshing.  Basically, he argues to keep things simple and not get caught up in cycling’s customs and “rules.”  It’s just a bike, dammit.  Ride it and have fun.  If you want to fiddle with it, go ahead.  It’s not a rocket ship and it probably won’t break.  If you do break it, your local bike shop will probably be able to fix your mistake for a small fee.  Just go have fun.  That’s a great attitude to have, in my view, and I try to take that on board with my cycling as much as possible.  So I really wanted to like this book, is what I’m trying to say.

So this review is going to be a bit awkward.

Here’s what Bike Snob did.  He zipped over to Sweden for a day and a half and rode his bike.  He did the same thing in Italy.  He also took a family vacation in Amsterdam for several days and they all rode bikes.  While on his way to Amsterdam, his family stopped in London for a day or two.  He went back to London on business.  Then he wrote a book about it.

As I read this, I thought to myself, “Wait a minute!  You do the exact same thing.  You pop into places for a few days on business, may or may not ride a bicycle, look around and then proclaim yourself to be a cycling expert on that place.  But you don’t write a book and make lots of money; you just post this stuff to your blog and are happy when it gets 100 views.”

Clearly, I was missing out on a good thing.  I’ve been to London, Madrid, Canberra, Boston, Tampa, and Virginia Beach.  Each city got a few hundred words from me and a blog post or two.  I guess if I was smart, I would have bundled them into 191 pages, several of which are devoted to artwork or are simply left blank, and made a book out of it.  Then I would ride the gravy train to financial independence and super stardom.  Or something like that.

Then again, I’m glad I didn’t, because there really isn’t enough material there to write a book.  Not even when you’re a world-famous blogger who goes on trips to speak at cycling expositions or get interviewed by the BBC.  He has a nice thought – that it would be fantastic if everyone adopted the same cycling attitude as Amsterdam.  That’s hardly a novel thought, but reading Weiss’ descriptions of how cycling is woven into the fabric of life in Amsterdam helps make his point.  Contrasting this atmosphere with his native New York City and even America’s cycling utopia – Portland – also reinforces this idea.  But it’s not a very complicated idea and after a few dozen pages, I found myself wanting to move on to the next thing.

Sadly, that’s about it for this book.  There’s the story of his trip to Sweden, where the sun never sets in the summer and people of all sorts gather for a group ride.  There’s a story about a trip to Portland (and it should be pointed out that no matter how strange that city may be, it is not abroad) where people’s fanatical love of cycling actually is a bit too much for him to take.  He finds London to have the same energy as his native New York and rides his very first bikeshare cycle, and loves it despite the nonsensical bike lanes that seem to start and end without any sort of rationale.  And then there’s the story about his trip to Italy, where he understood almost nobody and cycling wasn’t nearly as integrated into the city despite clear evidence of that country’s love of bicycle racing.  Oh, and there are several stories about New York City (which is also not abroad) – how it has changed since his youth and how he has changed since becoming a father and learning to value what he considers to be the highest form of cycling – cycling as a family.

As an aside, I noted with interest that once again the southernmost city fared worst in this little survey of bicycle cultures.  The warmer towns just don’t seem to embrace cycling, for some odd reason.  There’s probably a sociology PhD dissertation there for whomever wants it.

So, if you’re looking for a more tepid version of Bike Snob’s prose which discusses family cycling from the prism of four European cities, this is your book.  Otherwise, I suspect you’ll be mildly disappointed, as I was.

This Will Be The Death Of Me

I friend of mine recently sent me a funny video.  She knows I’m into cycling  (the fact that I represent the cycling community to a large number of people says as much about the state of cycling in Northern Virginia as it does about my abilities) and she thought I’d get a kick out of it.  The video is that classic scene from the movie, Downfall, when Adolf Hitler goes on a rant.  The video’s author’s have removed the actual subtitles and put a humorous diatribe about Strava in its place.

This got me to thinking, as an extremely important member of the cycling community, perhaps I should be more into Strava.

For the handful of you who are not familiar with Strava, it is a social media site that allows athletes to upload their GPS data and share this other members.  It’s very popular and has been around for a few years.  Naturally, I am one of the last people to consider adopting this.  Being the last to get new technology is kind of my move – whether it be converting from 8-Tracks to cassettes, VHS to DVD, or getting a smartphone, I’m generally the last guy around to pick up a new gizmo.  Why should Strava be any different?

In addition to the ability to share ride information with friends, Strava has an added (and insidious) feature – it allows riders to compare their performances on certain stretches of road which Strava calls “segments.”  You can see how your performance on a ride you just uploaded compares to everyone else who has traveled that same stretch of road.

And then you can immediately regret your decision.

Once you see how dismal your performance is against everyone else who has ever traveled a particular segment, you realize you weren’t pushing yourself.  For example, when I stopped on my New Year’s ride to take a picture of a church, that caused me to fall to the very bottom of the all time ridership for that segment.

I tell myself its ok because I stopped for the pictures and a quick drink.  I tell myself that I wasn’t pushing myself to begin with and was only out for a pleasant ride.  I remind myself that many of these riders were undoubted many years younger than me.  I quickly inform myself that comparing a ride in the dead of winter with times which were posted during the summer months is not appropriate. Despite all of this helpful information I provide myself, I nevertheless resolve to push myself harder and rectify this embarrassing situation.

Now, some will argue that all of this is a good thing.  After all, pushing yourself is how you improve and improvement is healthy, especially when it means better physical fitness.  I can’t really argue with that, except to say that not every ride should be a time trial and if you become emotionally invested in these little leaderboards, you may lose yourself in chasing them.  Just ask Adolf Hitler.

I’m pretty sure I’ll keep loading my rides into Strava, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep myself under control.  But if I one day stop posting, it will probably be due to the fact I blew out a lung while pushing my heart rate to 110% during a sprint on a Strava segment.

Here’s the video.  I hope it gives you a chuckle or two!

New Year’s Ride

An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in.   A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.

~Bill Vaughan

New Years Day is a busy time in my cycling world.  There are several administrative activities that are required, including updating the blog’s odometer and creating a new worksheet in the Excel spreadsheet I use to catalog my rides.  Finally, all 2013 photos must be stored in a newly created folder so my picture files for 2014 don’t overwhelm my tidy little electronic storage system.

All of this took at least fifteen minutes. With the administrative issues out of the way, I set out on my annual New Years Ride.

It was a sunny day and the breeze was tolerable, so the 40 degree temperatures weren’t excessively cold.  I wasn’t interested in setting speed or endurance records so I took a route through neighborhoods that forced me to spin my wheels a bit.  I stopped by Lake Montclair to take a pic of the dam.

Montclair DamThis is the site of my triathlon swimming training sessions.  I would start at a small beach just out of frame to the left and swim to the shore on the far side about 1/4 mile away while trying not to look like I was having an epileptic seizure.  The lake seems tranquil now but on a nice summer’s day that water would be dotted with all manner of small boats and floating docks.  Pool training would probably have been better, but the price at the lake was perfect (you can’t beat free) and it was much faster to hop on my bike after my swim and start riding.

I made a point of going by St. Mary’s Catholic Church (Byzantine Rite) so I could take a pic or two.  The architecture is very unusual for this part of the country and I always enjoy a brief moment to look at it.

IMG_1137There are many different religious faiths in my neck of the woods.  That gives me an idea for a future ride, during which I photograph the various buildings for your viewing pleasure.  I’ll start noodling out some routes and when spring gets here I’ll be ready.

I finished my meanderings after 21 miles and pulled in with the sedate average pace of 14.0 mph, including my photo stops.  I happily updated my odometer, because showing a zero up there is very depressing.

I am now officially started on my 2014 journey.  Best of luck to you in your riding in the new year!

The Year In Review

2013 calendarThe bylaws of bicycle blogging compel me to prepare an end-of-year review.  These trips down memory lane can be quite tedious affairs, where I tell you about everything I’ve already told you about all year long in one tidy post.  These are about as much fun as watching a slide show of Aunt Emma’s and Uncle Norman’s trip to Yosemite National Park.

By the way, do people still conduct slide shows of their trips in family rooms?  If not, however friends and family attempt to regale you at length with the details of trips you are only mildly interested in, that’s what I’m talking about.  I’m going to try not to do that.  I’m going to try something different.

I’m going to tell you what I learned.  That may not be preferable to a slide show, but at least it will be different.  So here goes:

Things I Learned in 2013:

  • The trees were pretty when I could see them.  Riding alone in the pitch dark was not as pleasant.

    The trees were pretty when I could see them. Riding alone in the pitch dark was not as pleasant.

    I learned that ultra long distance cycling and running are not for me.  At least not right now.  In April I tried to up my game and did my first 300km brevet.  Seventeen hours and forty minutes is a long time to be doing anything, including cycling.  I finished the event, but the last two hours alone in a moonless night on unmarked country roads were a little too harrowing for me.  I also took another stab at running a marathon, which I failed to even attempt due to injuries I developed in training.  So, I believe I have found my limits, and there can be too much of a good thing.  I’ll try to apply this lesson in 2014.

  • Cross training is good, but cross training for very difficult events requires great amounts of time that I cannot give at the moment.  Consequently, I let my cycling training suffer in order to improve my ability to run half marathons and more.  The result was most of my cycling events had worse times than I wanted and I was not properly prepared for most of my running events (see Lesson #1 above).  I think I’m going to reduce my running to a minimum needed for those muscles to remember how to do it, but my cardio training will come on the bike and I’ll trust some of the bike training will transfer itself (poorly, I know) to running.
  • Heading for the finish of the Quantico Triathlon

    Heading for the finish of the Quantico Triathlon

    Triathlons are fun.  I only did one triathlon – a sprint – but it was a hoot and it may be exactly the sort of thing I can prepare for given my available time and increasingly advanced age (not a word out of you on this, Tootlepedal and Brian!).  Sprint triathlons seem to be my thing – something you can knock out in 90-120 minutes.  But maybe the Olympic distance is a possibility (that’s a mile in the water, about 25 miles on the bike and a 6.2 mile run for those of you who are not huge triathlon fans).

  • A poor choice.

    A poor choice.

    Shoes are important.  I got some nice white ones this spring and developed some very severe foot pain which I assumed was due to my increased running.  After months of pain, I went back to my old shoes (duh!) and things improved immediately.  I’m still at a loss on how to buy shoes.  The new ones felt fine when I put them on and even did well for the first twenty miles of a ride.  I guess I need to count on the liberal return policies of the store I buy them from.

  • Look, a cyclist in Madrid!

    Look, a cyclist in Madrid!

    I went to Europe twice this year and didn’t cycle either time.  I did see plenty of other cyclists though and was intrigued at how many more cyclists I saw in cold and dreary England in November than warm and sunny Madrid in June.  This was more evidence that cycling seems to thrive in colder climates than temperate ones.  Why this is so remains a mystery to me.

  • Resolutions.  I made eight resolutions last January.  I accomplished four of them.  Not bad.  Failures include shrinking (primarily due to my inability to exercise in October and November following running injuries), getting in shape (no excuse),  a better pace on the Crystal Ride (stupid foot problems), and riding the Vasaloppet without getting lost (didn’t ride it due to schedule conflict).  Successes were completing a 300k brevet, doing a triathlon, taking lots of pictures, and having fun.

So, all things considered, not a bad year.  If I’m smart, I’ll learn from my mistakes and apply those lessons to 2014.  If history is any guide, though, I’ll end up dealing with a host of new mistakes with all sorts of unintended consequences, most of them comical.  And that’s the part of the fun of it, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Happy New Year to all of you and best of luck in 2014!

So This Is Christmas…

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“And so this is Christmas,

And what have you done?

Another year older.

A new one just begun.”

- J. Lennon

Remember my last post, the one about the remarkably warm weather?  Well I had a hard time remembering it when I pondered my Christmas ride, standing in the early morning sun with the temperature around 25 degrees.  Three days earlier, I was scooting about in shorts and a short sleeve jersey.  Today, I grabbed my new cold weather pants, put them over some shorts, and pulled out my cold weather gloves and balaclava to go with my cold weather jacket.

To be honest, my heart wasn’t in this ride at the start.  In my fourth winter of cycling, I still have not found joy in cold weather cycling.  I’ve become much better at staying warm, but surviving and thriving are two different things.  Truth be told, I only went out for you, Dear Reader, as I know how these reports can be so very important to your day.  Being an influence on the global cycling scene has its burdens, which I carry gladly.

In the end, I was quite happy to have gone out.  Maybe cold weather cycling can be pleasant.  Maybe.

To spice things up, I went on a seldom-used route through the Prince William Forest.  I don’t often go this way because it’s a relatively short ride and it requires riding over a gravel trail for a mile each way. I would not have enjoyed repairing a flat tire in freezing temperatures, but since this was only three miles from home I took the risk.

The forest was very quiet and I hoped to see some wildlife.  Every so often I get lucky and surprise something on still mornings such as this.  The bike is extremely quiet and much faster than other quiet things in the woods, so I often surprise the animals.  The most exciting example of this occurred two winters ago in Leesylvania Park, when a buck burst out of a woodline and ran alongside me for over one hundred yards.  Very cool.

There was no wildlife on the gravel road but there was a modest bridge.  I know there is a large interest in bridges throughout the readership of this blog, so I made sure to stop and take a picture for your viewing pleasure.

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This is Quantico Creek, which flows eastward for about ten miles before emptying into the Potomac River and forming the southern boundary of the Marine Base that bears its name.

Look, Ma, no hands!

Look, Ma, no hands!

The park’s ring road was very quiet.  Over seven miles I came across one truck and three parked cars.  I basically had the road to myself, which allowed me to horse around with some daredevil photography.  I found that the wind in my face was tolerable as long as I kept my speed below 15 mph.  That wouldn’t give me very much of a workout, but bundled up as I was I’m not sure an intense cardio effort would have been very productive.  The below pic is pretty much the view for all 7.3 miles of the ring road.

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I came across two more bridges in quick succession.  These were of a more modern design than the first, engineered to support cars and trucks.  Most bridges in this part of the world tend to be very utilitarian with little character, and these were no different.

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Although the second one had an unusual feature of incorporating a walking path under the bridge.  Even here in a park, cars rule the world and we cannot have pedestrians potentially coming into contact with them.  Best to send them underneath the road rather than having them cross it.

Bridge

The thing I’ve learned about bridges is they tend to take you over water.  Water tends to be in the lowest ground around, meaning to get to a bridge you usually descend a hill and to move from a bridge, you usually climb one.  And climb I did, for the better part of a mile over some moderately steep hills.  I climbed these hills in August during the Prince William Tour Of The Towns century and they took a lot out of me.  However I hit those hills after already riding 30 miles.  Today, they were at Mile 10 and I had been puttering all day, so I had plenty of energy and climbed them without difficulty.

As I turned northward on the loop, I got my wish.

I was still climbing, which often has me staring blindly at my front wheel and the five feet in front of it.  I looked up and spied a doe about 20 feet from me.  She was grazing on the side of the road and seemed just as surprised to see me.  I stopped and we stared at each other for about half a minute.  Slowly, I reached into my jacket packet and pulled out my camera.  This movement caused the deer to trot about fifty feet into the woods.  She turned around and we resumed our staring contest.  This went on for another minute or two before she decided she’d best be off before I did something crazy like pull out a rifle and shoot her.

It was a pretty cool moment, the kind I had been hoping for.  I took some pics and they turned out horribly.  I submit the best one to show you how much practice I need before I become acceptable at capturing these fleeting opportunities.  In this case, the camera was on auto-focus, and it dutifully focused on a tree and some grass about ten feet in front of the deer, leaving the animal out of focus.  Oh well, something to work on in 2014.

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The rest of the ride was simply doubling back on my way into the park.  I got home in good shape, my new cold weather pants worked very well and my puttering kept the wind damage on my face to a minimum.

For those of you who celebrate the holiday, I hope your Christmas was a merry one.  And I hope all of you in the Northern Hemisphere are relishing the prospect of more sunlight each and every day.  For you Southern Hemispherians, I’m sorry, but it’s our turn now.

“A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year.
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear.”

The Christmas Miracle of 2014

Carriage Ford Road

The title of this post may be a slight bit of hyperbole, but it certainly seemed miraculous when temperatures approached 70 degrees just four days before Christmas.  I’m not sure if we hit a new record high temperature but I know it was close (hooray, Global Warming!).  It was quite breezy out, but I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this pass without a ride.

On my way out of my suburb, I spotted a sure sign of Christmas.

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As I mentioned, there was a stiff breeze out of the west, and I pushed against it for twelve miles before reaching the bridge over Cedar Run.  Things are definitely “winter brown.”

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The bridge was recently widened this summer and this was my first crossing since the construction was completed.  I thought it was worth a pic to commemorate the occasion.

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Then I continued pushing against the wind for another four miles.  This was becoming quite tiresome, but at least I had views of the surrounding countryside to take my mind off things.

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Mercifully, I eventually turned my back to the wind and zipped along.  I paused to check on a group eating their afternoon dinner.  I took a picture and was disappointed with the lack of interest I drew.  I made a fool of myself by wildly waving my arms and whistling and got a much better result.

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Eventually, I made my way to Brentsville, which I used to refer to as “Breaksville” because my bike routinely broke down in this small town.  That hasn’t happened in quite a while and once again I made it through unscathed.  I looked for ghosts at the old courthouse which is rumored to be haunted and saw none.  I took a pic because sometimes ghosts turn up in photographs and was once again disappointed.

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I made it home with a very modest pace of 13.8 mph.  This can be partially explained by the many photographs I took and the wind was definitely not my friend, but I must be honest and tell you I was truly tired when I pulled into the drive after 39 miles.  I looked at my cycle log to see the last time I went further.

August 4th!

My how time flies.  I’ve really let myself go.  Fortunately, this is the perfect time of year to make a resolution and I think I know what mine will be.