So This Is Christmas…

christmas ride

“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.”

Night Issues

Like a future home owner inspecting the property he will soon own, Spring stopped by Northern Virginia yesterday to make sure everything is in order.  Temperatures were in the low 60s with a mild breeze.  After enjoying my 75 minute commute home, I set off to enjoy the evening.

It’s always fun to break out the Spring cycling wardrobe.  Fingerless gloves made an appearance for the first time in many weeks.  I was wearing a cycling vest and boldly left my skull-cap at home.  I brought my camera for some more exciting night photography.

An extremely rare self-portrait at night.  Unfortunately, extended shutter openings mean a little blurring.

An extremely rare self-portrait at night. Unfortunately, extended shutter openings mean a little blurring.

The ride itself was pleasant.  As I rolled over small hills, I passed through different thermal layers.  Cold air was settling into the low ground while the tops of hills remained temperate.  Being warmer at higher altitude is always an odd sensation, even if the “higher altitude” is only 30 or 40 feet.

Anybody can take "shadow pics" during the day.  Here is my first-ever nighttime shadow.

Anybody can take “shadow pics” during the day. Here is my first-ever nighttime shadow.

As always, the night ride had some excitement to it.  I came upon a jogger who was completely oblivious to my existence due to his iPod.  I eventually got his attention by moving my headlamp back and forth across his path.  Later, I threw my chain when I had to quickly stop for a car zipping up on a crossroad, unaware that someone might want to use the crosswalk he was stopping on.  Finally, my camera battery died due to my own failure to keep it charged.  I still managed a couple of pics.  Night photography is definitely “a work in progress” for me.  Thank you for your patience.

This one is so bad it's almost good.  There's a fire station somewhere in the background.

This one is so bad it’s almost good. There’s a fire station somewhere in the background.

Today is supposed to be even warmer than yesterday, at least until some thunderstorms roll in this afternoon.  I expect it to be colder, rainy, and windy by the time I’m ready to roll.  The extended forecast is for Winter to return.  I guess I shouldn’t be too greedy.  One night is better than nothing it all.

Night Moves

I have a day job with a 70-minute commute.  This means that any weekday cycling during the winter months must be done during hours of darkness.  Previous to the acquisition of my new camera, night photography was almost impossible.  If I had a great deal of light and a tripod, I could pull it off with adequate results (thus the Christmas Light Hunt post two weeks ago).  Now I have the ability to take better photos without needing to lug a tripod around with me.  Below are some pics from last night’s very cold (28 degrees) but otherwise unremarkable 16-mile ride:

I traveled eastward toward I-95 and took this pic on the bridge over the highway.  I like the way the headlamp illuminates a circle on the sidewalk.

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There are still a great many houses displaying their Christmas lights.  Since last night was only the “9th Day of Christmas” I suppose this is appropriate.  And no, I did not give my True Love nine ladies dancing.  I suspect we’ll be seeing lights well into late January.

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Our final shot was taken about half a mile from my house on a pathway linking the neighborhoods of Montclair and Lake Terrapin.

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I was happy to get home and out of the cold.  I had no near misses with cars and encountered only one jogger (who smartly was wearing flashing lights) and one pedestrian without incident.  Always a plus!

Crystal Ride Pics

For the handful of people who might be interested, here are some photo proofs of Yours Truly at last weekend’s Crystal Ride.  This is only the second time I have been photographed while riding a bicycle.  Very rare stuff, indeed!

Le Grand Depart.  Me and 1,600 of some of my newest friends begin the ride.

This is me having fun.  This was a right angle turn at the bottom of a gentle descent.  I enjoyed trying to get as close to the cones as possible at speeds around 25 mph.  This was one of my wider turns, so it must have been taken early on as I was still learning the course.

This is me having less fun, at the hairpin turn by the USAF Monument.  I had just scaled the hill leading to the monument and was busily trying to lower my heart rate by sucking in as much air as I possibly could.

Five laps down, three to go.  I’m pondering my strategy for the upcoming lap and realizing that I am fresh out of good ideas.

Another shot by the monument.  By the looks of things, this was taken well into the race and I am trying to recover from yet another ascent of that stupid hill.

My Photo Shoot

 As an Important and Influential Blogger, it should be of no surprise to you that a professional photographer recently requested permission to photograph me while I demonstrated my cycling technique.  After learning more about this event, you might point out that the photographer was my daughter, who only wanted the pictures so she could complete a homework assignment for her college photography course.  You would be right.  You would also be a killjoy.  So let us focus on the more uplifting aspects of this event and avoid the more mundane portions, shall we?

For the backdrop of our photo shoot, my photographer selected a parking lot at the extremely glamorous and scenic Montclair Elementary School (home of the Cardinals!).  After setting up her equipment and checking the lighting, we got to work on her primary goal: a photograph which blurred the background behind me while keeping me in focus.  Behold, the first-ever photograph of Yours Truly on a bicycle, taken by someone other than Yours Truly!

It took a surprisingly large number of attempts to get this photo.  There were several technical details involved that I was only dimly aware of.  Having completed our main project, my photographer decided to do some experimenting.  The below “Salvador Dali” photo was the result.  My photographer informs me that she is in the process of applying some of the dark arts of photo editing to further alter the picture.  That should be interesting!

Then we took some black and white shots, because nothing says “Up-Scale and Hip Photography” like black and white!

Here, I demonstrate a proper (ie., “cool”) resting position.  There are accepted techniques for standing around with your bike.  This is one of them.  Enjoy.

My photographer then wanted to get the rider out of the picture so she could focus on subjects that were more visually appealing, like my bike by itself.  I did my best to keep it upright by holding the rear tire out of frame.  My photographer asked me why I didn’t have a kick stand for my bike.  I laughed.  A lot.  Then I told her it was too hard to explain.

Here’s another shot of the bike, sans rider. 

I must say that I am very impressed with my photographer’s work.  It’s not easy making me look acceptable and I believe she has done so admirably.  Incidentally, if you are in the Northern Virginia area and would like some pictures taken, she is available for a small fee.  You can reach her at this website:  FreeThinking Photography.

Cool Cycling Photos

The Australian blog, Cycling Tips, has conducted an international cycling photo contest.  To view the entrants, go here.  The photos are great, but you can also read about the ensuing controversy over the winner here.  Seems there was some skullduggery with the computer vote tabulation.

All the photos are great, but this one by Michael Tabtabai is my favorite, if only because I can easily imagine this very thing happening to me!

The Last Great Day Of Summer?

As the calendar moves deeper into October, there are fewer Summer-like days.  Today, Summer made a mid-Autumn appearance with a cloudless sky, low humidity, gentle breezes, and a temperature hovering around 80 degrees.  We may not get many more days like today for some time and I took advantage of it.

I tried to take some pics of the bike from different angles while I was riding.  Here are some of the better ones:

This is the bike path on Rte 234.  Hard to believe you can hit someone on this path at night while using a light, but I’ve almost done it twice!  Walkers, please note that black jackets and jeans are a bad combination at night.

I tried to get creative with a shadow pic.

Self-portraits while mounted (and clipped in) are a bit challenging.  I don’t like my expression, but I thought the image of my arm, the road, and my shadow in my sunglasses was pretty cool.

It took more than a few shots to get this angle lined up properly!

I took these pics over the first seven miles of the ride.  After passing the Lake Jackson Dam on Rte 234, I turned onto the Prince William Parkway and made my way over to Yates Ford Road.  On my way, I ate my first Power Bar and was very pleased.  It is more moist than my Clif Bars and required far less water to wash it down.  I have no idea which has more nutritional value.  I guess I should read the label and figure that out!

After a short while on Yates Ford Road, I turned onto Davis Ford Road and took full advantage of the big descent leading down to the Occoquan River.  I managed to break the 40 mph barrier – barely.  I hit 40.2 mph but I believe I could have squeezed 2-3 more mph out of it had I not been so worried about the car that was following me.  Traveling 40 mph on  a bike in traffic definitely keeps you focused!

A couple of miles later, I came to the Bacon Race Cemetery.  Since there were historical markers, I had no choice but to stop and take some pics.

Bacon Race Church was the first Baptist Church built in Prince William County (c. 1774).  Two more churches were built on this site, the most recent one collapsing in rather ominous fashion on Christmas Eve, 1987.     Below are all the details:

During the Civil War, a South Carolina brigade under the command of Colonel Wade Hampton used the church for its winter headquarters.   Yet another marker for a Confederate happening.  It’s quite remarkable that these historical markers dot the landscape but I have yet to find one which commemorates some aspect of Union activity.  This is especially odd as the area was under Federal control for most of the war.  I can’t imagine why this oversight has occurred!

The church is gone but the cemetery remains.  I hopped off my bike for a moment to take a drink and snap this picture:

The rest of my ride was uneventful.  The horses were out as I passed the farm on Hoadly road and I had a pleasant chat with a 20-something Burger King manager who was pedaling to work on his Schwinn.  He bikes 10 miles to work each way, five days a week.  Not bad!  I pulled into the drive and tried to remember the feeling of cycling on a hot day.  I don’t think I’ll have many more of those for the next six months!