A bike trip


Since buying the Ogre, I've been peppered, not wrongly, with questions about whether I had any plans to take it on some kind of adventurous bike trip. The bike begs for these kinds of questions- clearly it's one meant to be taken 'off road' and on wild galavants through daunting terrain and to places other than back and forth through a city from a house to an office and barely through a puddle and around a pothole and mistakenly over a cobble if I make a wrong turn. In short, when I bought this bike, I overbought- the quality of the steed far outpaces my own abilities, both physical and imaginative, and to this point, I've barely attempted to do anything 'fun' with it, other than the further equip it with racks and tires and fenders and bags and doodads that suggest that it, and by extension I, am ready for it. But perhaps due to the zeitgeist or perhaps because of some desire to overcome the underlying hypocritical tension of having such a wonderful bike and having never taken it anywhere or maybe because the cool weather of October finally beckoned a trip of more than the most utilitarian nature, I decided that I'd skip work on a Friday and ride somewhere reasonably far away, stay over and then ride back the next day.

My goal was Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a place that I most likely picked because I had read of it before, most likely from the riderly adventures of the randonneuring dyad of Ed and Mary. It also seemed a reasonable enough far away distance to conceivably make in one day without being utterly devastatingly fatigued and it also seemed to have a hotel or two where I could spend the night. I do not camp. Perhaps I could camp, but I've firmly committed myself to the idea that the advances of human civilization have primarily been predicated on the invention of 'inside' and I'd hate to turn my back on hundreds of thousands of years of progress by our species. My route would be fairly obvious, the C&O Canal towpath, and along the way I would stop at the point of interest, Harper's Ferry, a place I remembered from history class, but had never visited. I also figured that since I'd be up that way and primed by the whole John Brown thing, I ought to check out the Antietam battlefield across the river from Shepherdstown and then make my way back via the southern outskirts of Frederick, home to the Flying Dog brewery, which itself is home to a tasting room, which is home to beers for sale and I packed money to exchange for some of that beer. This was the agenda and I carried it out in full. All told, it was around 170 miles, which is longer than 150 miles, but shorter than 200 miles. This concludes the quantitative portion of the blog post. On to thoughts and feelings:

I've ridden the C&O towpath before, but never as far as this. It keeps going well beyond where I stopped and eventually meets the GAP, which goes to Pittsburgh. There are many folks who ride and have ridden the whole distance and I give them tremendous credit for seeing it through. I didn't have the best time on the C&O and I think it's for a few distinct, but not entirely unrelated, reasons.

It was boring. A long straight flattish dirt path surrounded by trees uninterrupted for miles and nary a soul about sounds great, right? I don't know. I have a kind of complicated relationship with nature (woo sustainability! actually spending time in it? ugh) and I keep trying to convince myself that greater exposure, like a kind of inoculation, will make me like it more, but I'm just not sure that it's for me. Give me city. Give me people.

Loneliness. I was very lonely riding by myself and I didn't think to talk to myself (aloud) until maybe the last half of the trip home. I didn't find solace in the solitude. If I were to do this again, I think I'd want to go with someone else or maybe bring a parrot ('BUT WHAT KIND OF CRACKER?'- me at mile 40, probably), at least to break up the very loud silence in my head. I don't know if this is a character flaw or something that I could or should aspire to overcome, but I should at least begin to be honest with myself and recognize that riding alone for launch stretches isn't something I especially enjoy.

Sounds. Riding the C&O is primarily an auditory experience. Crushed leaves and gravel underneath a tire for hours and hours. This could probably be a setting on a white noise machine.

Harper's Ferry. Not much there there. Maybe John Brown should've done his thing somewhere more exciting, like Disneyland. Just saying.

Shepherdstown. It seemed all right. The Lost Dog Coffee shop is the hippy coffee shop of your dreams/nightmares and worth a visit if you're in town. Otherwise, I didn't really spend much time in town, electing to forego leaving my sleeping quarters for the night to only venture to the grocery store across the street for grub.

Antietam. It was pretty...? Can a macabre place be pretty? Probably. War is awful.

The roads in between. It was nice to be off the path for a while and to cut across some scenic backroads over to Flying Dog. It's possible that you're given a pickup truck with an NRA sticker when you move here or maybe you move here because you already have one. Drivers was decently obliging, but it was a Saturday morning and there weren't many cars on the road. I struggled somewhat with the heavy laden bike on some of the uphill parts, but I made it fine. Again, the barriers were much more mental than physical. I don't know what it's like if you go a really far distance. Either some kind of transcendental bliss or something entirely different, I guess.

Flying Dog. It was nice. I liked the beer, especially the Spiced Pear Ale, which was some kind of special thing that was either seasonal or only being served at the brewery. I can't remember which. No bike parking though.

Dogs. Lots of people with dogs on the towpath on the way home. Each dog got either a 'hi woofy' or a 'hi woofers' depending on whether I thought the dog was more of a 'woofy' or a 'woofers.' It's possible that by this point I had maybe biked a little too much by myself and was suffering some kind of mild mental break. I would say that except that I'm pretty sure I always say hello to dogs and do, in fact, use the woofy or woofers honorific in all cases. But really, by this point, I had been biking by myself for too long and I felt a mixture of boredom, anxiety and hopelessness. I don't know to what extent my mood could have been assisted by doing a better job eating and/or taking breaks (not riding any considerable distance very frequently, I'm not really good at either of these things), but I found myself wanting the miles to tick off faster than I seemed to be able to make them tick off. That ticked me off.

I think this was a good trip and I'm glad I took it, irrespective of the some parts I didn't enjoy to the fullest. If your really groove on the woods and crave the kind of solitude they can provide, I heartily recommend this route as a tonic. You should probably also go to Civil War-sy type places, generally, because history is important and the sites themselves are full of feeling. And you should go to Flying Dog because beer is good. I'm not sure I'm itching to do this kind of ride again (see above) but for a couple of days in October of beautiful weather, it was nice to take my bike on a trip that it deserved.



Bicycle Things of Late

Let's work backwards:

Before I left on my trip (see below), I dropped off my Brompton at the shop for an upgrade. Today I picked it up. It now has 3 gears and an internal hub whereas it formerly had two and a derailleur. I rode it home, so I don't have a ton of time experiencing the difference, but so far I seem to really like it and I think I'll both continue to like it and like it even more with the more time that I spend with it. Looking back, three years back, when I bought the Brompton, I think I should've done this initially and I'm glad to have rectified my poor choice eventually. The Brompton now has a dynamo hub and an IGH, so it's basically ready for the zombie apocalypse...

...which is maybe how you could have described the desolation of the past few days, when His Holy Papalness was in town. What made the streets emptier? Well, it was the lot fewer cars. And the fewer people, but mostly the fewer cars, which were noticeable. It was a cyclist's dream and all of the few of us out and about on bikes seemed to have a great time riding on mostly empty roads.

There were also empty roads in western Connecticut, a place a rode a week ago, having left from Brooklyn, having arrived there by bike after arriving in New York by bus after having left Rosslyn a few hours before. I grew up Connecticut (before coming to DC and then going a bunch of places and then eventually ending up back here) and it had long been my goal of riding my bicycle there from 'the city' and when some vacation time popped up, I prompted myself to finally do it. And so I did. It was a 90 something mile ride and most of it was spent on the South County/North County/Putnam Trail, which was a mixed path of 60 something miles from the Bronx to Brewster. Before that, I rode from Brooklyn to Queens to Manhattan to the Bronx and after the trail, I has the misfortune of choosing a hilly route on a hot day and nearly did myself in, thoroughly fatigued by my effort and the weight of the too much stuff that I had brought with me. The hills were rough, like really 'why am I doing this?' rough, but the roads were empty for the most part and it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable ride overall. Truth be told, I haven't done any really 'touring' or the facsimile of touring that this was and for a first go, I was glad to have gotten as far and as fast as I did. I'd like to do other longish rides like this (of the point-to-point variety) and in the future, I'll be sure to pick cooler days and bring less stuff. I didn't even bring that much. It was still too much.

When I was in town, I rode my bike. I've never really biked in my hometown before. It was a really edifying experience.

When I returned to New York a few days later (by train), I decided that I would spend some of my free time biking the sites and I wended through Brooklyn and into and around Prospect Park and then over a bridge and then back over another bridge and then around some more and altogether enjoyed a really nice time doing the same thing that I would do here, pointlessly meandering by bike through an urban environment, somewhere else.

I probably have a lot more thoughts on all of this and in much more detail and I might even want to share them some time in the future, but for now, I think I'm ok. There are pictures of various things on the Instagram if you're so inclined. Also, if you have particular questions about anything, you can contact me through semaphore or email or twitter or however.


The 50 States Ride

I don't exactly remember the first 10 miles of the 50 States Ride. I remember starting and I remember eating a donut before starting and I remember when a women fell down in front of Dave and me (she was all right) and I remember a guy with a giant flag waving from the back of his bike (this flag concerned me, as I could imagine myself mistakenly burrito-ed as the result of an unexpected gust of wind), but I can't remember the ride turn by turn or where we went or when the crowd started to thin out, which it really didn't do until many miles later. I do remember seeing lots of people that I knew and even more people who I didn't know and I remember the clouds and the drizzle, but both the crowds and the drizzle remain a bit amorphous and foggy. I didn't remember where I split up from the people that I knew, but then I remembered that it was at Hains Point, where I ditched to use the Little Park Rangers room. Then I was by myself, but not really, since the course was awash in people even when it was awash in rain.

The 50 States Ride is an annual tradition meant to celebrate the 4 states of matter and 46 other things that aren't ever really mentioned in the pamphlet. To celebrate matter, WABA asks bicyclists to ride on the streets, drives, and avenues of the District of Columbia that are named after the states of the United States, states which also home to solids, gases, liquids and plasmas (both at blood banks and Best Buys). Liquids are a recurring theme of the ride as WABA uses its weather machine to ensure that riders are also given a refreshing soak, which also serves as a symbolic cleaning ritual that erases the impurities from body, bike and spirit that one may complete the ride chaste. This is also not in the pamphlet. There also might not actually be a pamphlet describing the ride, but there is a cue sheet. It's 58 pages long and has footnotes. It also features the androgynous blob guy from the Ikea instructions. I believe there's at least 2 appendices and among the turn-by-turn directions, there are helpful pieces of advice like 'steep hill' and 'watch for bears.' Since the state streets are strewn about the District, the ride is more than 60 miles long, though each mile is of the same length.

There was a part when my cue sheet got wet and another part where my wet cue sheet fell off my bike and that was also the point when I decided to make friends, or at least glom onto some folks who knew where the route would take us. I spent maybe a third of the ride, the part from the Anacostia Park rest stop to the Eastern Market lunch stop, with these folks. Some of these folks wore jerseys festooned with the logos of state universities (Michigan State, North Carolina State, etc.) and more than one person wore a jersey decorated with the Maryland flag. It was all very stately.

I remember the hills. Some of the worser hills aren't on state streets at all. If you want the candy of the state streets, you have to eat your vegetables of the non-state streets. Four out of five dentists would probably agree. I bet there were a fair number of dentists on this ride, but that's neither here nor there. Having ridden my bicycle in most every corner of DC previously, I had a pretty good idea of where the hilly parts were and weren't and was adequately prepared to deal with them, which I did by strategically installing funiculars the night before along key points of the route. I then hid the funiculars in some brush. It was all very cunning. No, truth be told, the way I did the hills was the same way everyone else did, which was to ride up them and I didn't much mind that because hills and I have this weird relationship, in which I like riding up them far more than I like riding down them. I am of alpine heritage (my mother's family hails from the Tyrol and my father's family is Yeti) and for whatever reason, going up isn't nearly as much of a chore as going down, which I find terrifying. In the rain or on wet roads, I clung ever closer to my brakes, hoping that a stopping power that could best be considered subpar, but not in a golf kind of way.

At lunch, I was burrito-ed in a good way (thanks District Taco), but I failed to reconnoiter with anyone I knew, so I decided that, being close to my house, I would briefly reconnoiter with my dogs, so I rode home and gave them a few pets before setting off once more. Once more, a group of strangers and then up through Brentwood and Brookland and Petworth and the more northerly parts of the city where I don't spend very much time. We eventually were spat out somewhere Takoma-ish. This part of the ride was very officious because the group was doing this thing where one person would shout out the next turn and then the person in front of him would shout out what that person who just shouted and then it eventually made its to the leader of the group, who would execute the turn. It was like being on a submarine. Also, it was like being on a sinking submarine because we were all very wet.

At the Takoma pit-stop, the rain worsened well beyond he cusp of torrentiality, but I didn't sit it out and wait. Had I done that, I might still be there. FUN FACT: blogging right now from some guy's house in Takoma. He keeps reminding me that the ride ended two days ago, but I keep saying 'buddy, I'm not the one who signed up to host a pit stop, ok?'  I set off solo and truth be told, this was the part of the ride that I enjoyed the most. It's not that I don't like big groups of people- no, strike that. It's exactly that- I don't like big groups of people. I wanted the chance to ride by myself for a little, to navigate and to figure my own way and set my own pace and be solely responsible for getting myself lost. And doing this in the preposterous rain storm was somehow even better. There was a four inch deep stream down Alaska Avenue and riding through the park in the dark in the rain and under trees that somehow seemed to block out the sky but somehow not the rain and then to lumber up Oregon Avenue and down Nevada and on streets that are barely even familiar and even then, only familiar in that I've seen them on maps or maybe ridden them once four years ago, this all seemed, I don't know, satisfying. The climb up 36th to Fessenden is when I next saw people and then after the quick pit stop, the stop at which Colin from WABA said that 'this seems like a very much you kind of ride' (I guess my enjoying doing silly pointless city bike rides in weird conditions is common enough knowledge), I was back on the road for the last stretch, which all went well, even though I struggled mightily on Garfield Street. Guiteau hated Garfield, but bicyclists might hate him more. More than he hates Mondays.

At the end of the ride, back in Adams Morgan, you get a t-shirt and a beer and I liked both of those things. I don't know if they would've proven consolation if I also didn't enjoy the ride immensely and I'm glad that circumstances allowed me to finally get to participate after years of wanting to. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience to ride your bike all over DC and while you don't need to wait until an organized ride to do it, it's a fun concept and I heartily encourage you to give it a try if you haven't. You might learn about the city. You might learn about yourself. You might about Charles Guiteau and civil service reform (note: very little, if any, of the 50 states ride features any educational elements related to 19th century civil service reform. at least not this year's) . But with the right attitude, you'll have fun on your bicyclist and that's not a bad way to spend weekend day at all.


On not bicycling

I'm laid up. Figuratively mostly. Did something to my Achilles. Probably from running. Don't run. Running is never good. Anyway, I went to the doctor. The doctor did an x-ray. Actually, the radiologist did it. But the doctor looked at it. Actually, she was a PA. But I don't harp on that distinction. No harping here. X-ray showed no signs of a brake. Probably just a strain. Maybe a sprain. Hurts still. She gave me some pills. And they wrapped it. Not her, or the radiologist, but someone else. It got wrapped. I limped a little. I've been taking the pills. They help some. Reduce the inflammation. That's the goal. But also I should rest. I've been trying. That means no biking. That means staying home. When out, that means driving. I drove to work. It cost $14 to park. For the day. What a scam. I drove to the movies. It cost $6 to park. The same as the ticket. I drove to a coffee shop. Free to park there. It's Sunday. Still paying for gas though. Didn't even really want to go. Not because coffee isn't good. It is. Quite good. But driving is a pain. I don't like it. I mean, it's fine. It's just not my preference. It's a hassle. Even when parking is free. It makes me want to stay home. I don't want to go places. Because I don't want to drive places. I don't want to explore. It's not worth it.

When you get into bicycling, or at least get used to bicycling everywhere, whether you think that that's some kind of special vocation or just your preferred option for getting around, you rapidly become used to a certain kind of mobility and freedom and, though I can't speak for everyone, a certain kind of willingness to explore. The act of traveling is so pleasurable that you want to go places, not just because the places are fun to go, but because getting there is fun too. At least that's what happens with me and that's why on a weekend, a long weekend, when I'm laid up and off the bike, I feel doubly down- down from the injury itself and down from the knock-on effect of the injury, the psychic hurdle of not wanting to go places because getting there is so, comparatively, unfun. Even when it's objectively not that bad. Anyway, that's my sob story. Don't take bicycling for granted.


Rides 8/28: Summery

Been too long (two days) since this ride for me to recollect anything in detail. So, that's put the bottom line up top and say 'it was fine.' Now might also be a good time to mention that the blog is going on a bit of a hiatus as I find myself going back to school. As with the previous hiatus, I'm going to try to maybe remember to pop in when I have more free time and write things and I really hope that I do this with some degree of regularity, though I don't intend to make any promises.

We're coming up to the most palatable month of the year for bike commuter. September, even more than April, is a bicyclist's delight. The heat wanes, the crispiness begins and the leaves crimson, but still cling. If it doesn't rain much, then it's even more of a treat. I'm going to try to ride as much as I can whenever I can and maybe even squeeze in an ill-thought "adventure" later in the month. If that comes to pass, I might even try to write about it.