Sunday, December 28, 2014

On the Road Again

I have a goal for 2015 of getting back into road biking. While I hate to wade into a sport with more sectarian schisms than Iraq and see no reason to spend as much on a bike as I did on my first three cars combined (which can easily be done once you venture into the land of carbon fiber construction and shift-by-wire derailleurs), the fact of the matter - as Cyndi points out - is that there are a lot of places to explore in the world that aren't on the water.

I got an start on my 2015 riding by doing the Arlington Loop today. After spending the morning of what was forecast to be the last day of a late December warm spell doing chores and paperwork I decided I just needed to get out and take advantage of the weather. It took me a while to get everything together: bike tires inflated, proper clothing, proper layering for the weather, helmet, phone, various braces in case my knee or foot gave out. Finally I headed out the door, and as I did it started raining. Fortunately the modern world is a wonderful place and so I was able to see on my phone that the rain was a band of light showers which would soon pass, leaving me to do at least most of my ride dry. I decided to go ahead with the ride.

As expected, it rained a little as I zoomed down the W&OD towards Shirlington. The first third of the loop in this direction is great - largely downhill with a 300+ foot elevation drop from my house to the river. Anyone can feel like a powerful rider on a long downhill trail! Phase two of the ride, always my favorite part, was rain-free. I love this part because it's along the river. Which means I was using my bike which can explore away from water to explore a part of the world that was on the water ... never mind. I didn't make any long stops on this ride, but I did pause to watch one airplane depart out of DCA.

Part three of the ride stank as always. The ride up from Rosslyn back to East Falls Church is hilly. Lots of steep ups and downs, and of course you have to gain back that 300+ feet of elevation. Plus it hard started to rain again - but again, just lightly.

Total mileage: about 18 mi.
Average speed: a slow 12 MPH.

Conclusion: I feel like I had some power in my legs from my exercise bike workouts at the gym, but I'm clearly just at the beginning.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mattawoman on Boxing Day

There's a section in the book The Boys in the Boat, a book about the U.S. 1936 Olympic crew team,where author Daniel James describes George Pocock's switch from Spanish cedar to western red cedar as a shell-building material. In fact, he waxes rhapsodic about the wood, describing it as "a kind of wonder wood" that is "light and buoyant", "easy to shape", "strong but flexible", "highly resistant to rot" with a "lovely scent". It was exactly this section which played when I switched the audio book version on in my car on the way home from Indian Head. I smiled, my arm resting on the western red cedar paddle I had just used on the day's kayak outing and had carved myself earlier this year. As I listened I felt a particularly strong connection to the words of the book and to the long-departed Pocock himself.
The kayak launch could use some maintenance

Tall Tom and I took advantage of some splendid December weather to hit the water. On a previous trip on Mattawoman I had spotted a sign for a free kayak launch off of Rt. 224 and so we decided to give that a try. The launch was in need of some upkeep - the dock was partly washed away and the dropoff from the bank into fairly deep water made it a little cumbersome to clamber into the boats. We soon discovered that the first quarter mile or so was twisty with fast-flowing water (perhaps faster than usual thanks to recent rains) and lots of obstacles - a little challenging to navigate in long sea kayaks. Once we ran that first gantlet, though, things settled down and we found ourselves in a beautiful nature preserve. There were birds galore - it seemed at every turn we flushed a flock of something or other. Geese. Ducks. Kingfishers. Eagles. Cormorants. Gulls.

Flushing birds
Warm winter days call for careful energy management. You have to dress for the water temperature and so if you work too hard you wind up getting overheated. Plus, Tom was getting over a cold and I haven't been paddling much, so we took it easy. According to MapMyRun we were doing 3.25 - 3.5 MPH. Not slow, but not in-season speed.

As an aside, this was my first experiment with using the MapMyRun app to track a kayak trip. Mixed results. It was nice to not have an extra device (standalone GPS) to manage. However, even though the app allowed me to specify that I had been kayaking, the results it reported were decidedly running-oriented: one mile split times in minutes per mile, which I had to manually convert to the speeds reported above. No data downloads. No analysis. And a strange absence of a zero speed section which I would have expected when we took a break. Maybe the paid version offers more.
A refreshing dip at the end of the trip

Anyway, we paddled out about four miles, then turned around and paddled a mile back to Mattingly Avenue park where we took a break. From there it was back into the pretty, narrow section of the creek. The lotus fields of the summer were just stalks, making it harder to spot the shallow parts - we each went aground here and there. Getting out of my kayak back at the launch I stepped out into much deeper water than I expected and wound up taking a waist deep dip in the cold creek water and flipping my boat. A nice outing nonetheless.

Total distance: 8.35 mil (per MapMyRun).