My Ride in Connecticut

Yes, I realize I skipped a few commutes in there. That's my bad. Honestly, with the much shorter ride and seeing so many fewer cyclists, it's kinda hard to keep the 'blog my ride everyday' conceit going. Emphasis on conceit. 3 miles isn't 8 miles, for one thing, and now that I don't go through Federalia or downtown, it's even harder to stretch the plausibility of seeing things or people that are vaguely worth noting. In light of that, writing up my ride just doesn't feel as immediate. Also, I've had some personal life changes (adopted a pet emu) that result in my wanting to spend less time writing than I had previously wanted to and I haven't quite struck the balance yet between the time investment and the payoff that I feel is worthwhile. Anyway, all of this is to say that TFTS will likely muddle on for some, but maybe without as much regularity. So, it's not a goodbye and it's not a ghosting, but maybe more of a recognition that writing this blog isn't as vital to me as it once was and I think that that sometimes shines through. BUT, when the urge to write does grip me, as it so often does, I'll continue to use the blog as an outlet for whatever needs letting out. Like my brief description of my 70 mile ride in Connecticut yesterday.

Last fall, I thought it'd be fun to ride from my brother's place in Brooklyn to my parents house in Connecticut. It was around 80 miles and I did it and I was relatively pleased with myself for accomplishing this feat. I'd like to do it again some time. Or maybe go in reverse. I don't know. In the course of my visiting my hometown with a bike, I took some time to ride around some of the roads and hills in the north side of town and thought they'd make a fun place for a more extended ride. So that's what this was- a chance to come back to town and get in some hilly riding on some dirt roads in the midst of the changing leaves of a Connecticut fall.

I have a system for getting my bike here and it's pretty cheap. Not as cheap as riding it the whole way from DC, but still not so bad. I take a Vamoose bus ($40/roundtrip, bike travels at no additional cost) from Rosslyn to Penn Station, then ride from Penn Station to Grand Central. I bought a roundtrip off-peak ticket for Metro North (and for $5 a lifetime bicycle pass, which is now a treasured possession) for $33 ($28 for the tickets) and I got off at Brewster station. I changed into my bike clothes there (which I was wearing underneath my normal people clothes), swapped out my Vans for the bike shoes I had in my Carradice, and then rode the 25 miles from Brewster to my parents house. I did parts of this ride last year, but took a slightly modified route this time to avoid some of the hillier parts. I used the Pocket Earth app offline map for navigation (following a route that I had downloaded previously) and stuck to mostly backroads where I could and made it in about an hour and a half.

I rode the Mr. Pink with Clement MSO tires. Steel frame plus fast, but traction-y, tires is sort of the super best ideal combo for this, though it did feel a little sluggish on the paved parts. Though, admittedly, that might have just been me. Anyway, I love my Mr. Pink so, so, so, so much and this trip really confirmed that it was an amazing choice for a new bike. If I was to get another bike, I might want it to be an All City.

The plan for my big ride was to follow someone's previously mapped metric century (downloaded from RideWithGPS and displayed on Pocket Earth). What I wanted in a route was a good of hills (because hills are fun?) and more unpaved surfaces than not. This route provided both and fairly early on. I won't bore you with the exact details of the roads I took, but there was a lot of up and down and a lot of dirt and dust and gravel and very, very few cars. It gets pretty quiet back in the woods around these parts and there are lots of 'scenic roads,' which means they are dirt and they aren't plowed in winter. There are some horse farms and more than a few decrepit barns (which is not to say that they're unused) and then there are big houses that were either built in the 18th, 19th or 20th century by people who thought that living in the middle of nowhere would be better than living somewhere closer to stuff. I rode through just one or two town centers (town center consisting of a Main Street that might or might not be bisected by two other streets named Church and perhaps Maple) and through a state park named Macedonia. I never had to walk up any hills, but I more than once thought about it. I wore gloves and this saved my wrists from jarring effects of hours on gravel. The bike excelled in the varied terrain and I'm quite confident that it saved my life on an extremely perilous descent over which I found out later wasn't actually a road. The problem with relying on routes downloaded from the internet is that you don't really know if the guy who made it was crazy. Moreover, when roads are maintained for winter and when you're in the countryside where no one really lives anyway, there's no real guarantee that a surface that seemed passable two years ago in spring would be tolerable now.

I went down North Kent Road fast. At first it was fun, but when I realized my momentum was such that my brakes could only hope to slow me by half but not fully, I wondered if I should panic. The problem with the road wasn't so much the grade- it was a 10-13% decline, which is manageable generally- but that the road wasn't a road and whatever it was, it was covered in leaves so I couldn't see what I was about to ride over. In many cases, what I rode over were rocks and what weren't rocks were holes where rocks used to be. It was a craggy, uneven surface on a hill where I couldn't stop and couldn't see what was beneath my tires and had I given myself over to any thought other than 'stay loose and get out of the way of anything you can't get over,' I think the panic would have surely resulted in my crashing and that would have had more than a break-even chance of resulting in potentially serious injury. I only skidded hard on leaves once or twice, but stayed up. I missed a few of the bigger rocks by an inch and as far as the potholes went, the bike managed to see me through them. I'm not the most confident descender in the best of cases and I didn't really have much of a choice here, and while it might generally sound fun to careen down the side of a hill in only the scantest control of your bike and body, I can assure you in this case that it wasn't. It was the scariest thing I've ever done on a bike and I'm grateful that I made it through in one piece.

Over the course of the ride, I lost a water bottle. It ejected somewhere. I bought it last week, for the purposes of this ride, but now it belongs to the woods. The very kind people at WTF Kits are sending me a replacement gratis because they are good people. The water bottle is labeled Whiskey and I have a feeling that someone is going to be pretty pissed at this when he finds it roadside and discovered the liquid therein has been considerably mislabeled.

I ate beef jerky and gatorade for lunch. I snacked on some gross glucose snack things I got from a tent that REI set up along the Anacostia. I also enjoyed a muffin and iced coffee before the last 15 miles back into town.

I'm not sure I enjoy riding longish distances by myself. The solitude doesn't really overcome me, but I do get bored and having other people around is a nice distraction from dull pain in your legs or listening to your own breathing. I think if I were to do this again, and I want to, I'd like to go with someone else. It's nice country and the roads really are good if you're into dirt and gravel and hills and deciduous trees doing their thing. Plus, I'm sure my parents would let you sleep on the couch. I haven't asked them, but they're pretty nice so it's probably cool.

Route here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17145625. Sorry no Strava. For once, I actually really regret not using it because I think I went at least 50mph once and I'm sorry I didn't capture that.

Bike, fence, hills, trees

bike at rest. not pictured: me at rest. I made a wrong turn, climbed a hill I didn't need to climb and then stopped because I was knackered. That's when I realized I made a wrong turn. 

I regret not taking a picture of the horse farm here, which has a statue of a horse covered in gleaming stainless steel plates. 

Sample dirt road through woods

More dirt road, more woods

Did I mention the roads weren't paved?

This is pretty emblematic of the whole area. If you ever want to ride up here, I'm game. It'll be fun. 


Rides 10/5

Hey, let's complain about some drivers. I've gotten used to a lot of nonsense, but I've noticed two things recently that have been bothering me more than usual. The first is the phones. Seriously, it's bad. It seems like every other person is holding a phone with driving. It's bad. If I'm ever done in by a driver holding a phone. please burn down a Verizon store in my honor. Or an ATT store. Whichever really. Also, don't do that. But man, it's bad. I've resolved myself to having to deal with people who speed and people who cut me off and people who are generally not as kind around cyclists as they should be, but the distracted drivers scare me the most because they're just not looking at the road and I'm working with small enough margins already. I know that robot cars will save us all someday and because of this we can't take any intermediate steps to improve things right now, but if we decided that it was ok to take some steps to help lessen the chance that a distracted drivers hurts me, you, someone you know or him- or herself, that would sure be appreciated. So much of my thinking about safety is trying to ride in such a way as to mitigate risk. But it's really hard to think about risk when they exists the wildcard that someone might just not be looking.

Also, right-turn-on-red is a sham and should be banned anywhere people walk. If I'm ever done in by a driver making a right turn on red, burn down a red light district. No, please don't do that. But seriously, it's bad. Even if you were to tell me that it's not dramatically unsafer than other bad driving things, I'll tell you this: it creates a situation that encourages encroachment into crosswalks and this, in effect, is one big fuck you to pedestrians. It's hostile and unpleasant and it's hard to imagine how any civilized place could allow it. It's time to be more honest about that.

Usual route to and from work. I thought about stopping at the bike shop on the way home, but ended up going down a different street. Solution: put a bike shop on every street.


Rides 9/20, Rides 10/3 and Rides 10/4

If it were the same beautiful weather we've had over the past 2 days for 300 days a year, I think it'd have the same effect on the overall number of people biking as only about 3 miles of protected bike lanes. Don't get more wrong- this weather is amazing and there are certainly more people biking than there would be were it totally shitty, but I've been doing this long enough to develop strong opinions without empirical evidence and within that certitude is the belief that what really gets people on the bike isn't whether (hah) or not it's nice, but whether or not they worry about being seriously injured or ending up dead. Bicycling is a truly wonderful thing and the feelings it gives me are for the most part extremely positive. But boy oh boy does the current milieu in which I do it ask me to think about my own mortality more times and in deeper ways than I'd prefer. And I do it everyday! I guess all of what I'm saying is two things: 1) putting people in situations in which they're worried about their safety and *feel* unsafe is very visceral ways isn't likely going to lead to more people wanting to put themselves in those situations and 2) asking for hyper-vigilance from people and asking them to do everything they can (which still might not be enough!) to ensure that other people don't bring them harm seems unlikely to win over additional converts. It's just too much. Nice weather though.

I've given up on Connecticut and Calvert on the way home. I prefer Woodley now. It's pretty breezy, all things considered. There are two stops signs between Cleveland and Connecticut and they're pretty well-spaced. This opens the door to lots of zooming or as much zooming can be done by a relatively cautious rider on slow bikes on a potholed street. Not much opportunity for zooming afterwards either.

I see a lot of other bicyclists, but only on 18th. It's a pretty good mix too, encompassing a mix of people in regular clothes and bikey clothes and across the entire spectrum of bike types. But it's just one block. I miss seeing cyclists all over the city. Maybe it's time to get a job on the Hill, get the downtown commute back. It's a weird campaign announcement, but when I'm the junior Senator from Nebraska, at least I'll have a longer bike commute back and get to see more bicyclists.