Monday, December 28, 2015

Holiday Paddles

So, it's Christmas week and my biggest problem while kayaking is getting overheated. This time of year usually means numb fingers and ice on the deck. This week I had to make sure I had ice in my water to keep cool! I'm not complaining: I'll take too hot over too cold any day.

Christmas Paddlers
Trip 1: 12/25

Ralph organized a trip out of Truxton Park Christmas morning. I was surprised that he got a pretty good group - evidently I'm not the only one for whom Christmas morning isn't a big deal. I guess these were the folks who celebrated Christmas Eve, had no family locally, or were just generally humbugs. In addition to Ralph the group included Tall Tom, Tim, Tom B, Dave I, Linda and me. Just about everyone had a Santa hat. Tim didn't wear a Santa hat but decorated his boat with mistletoe. That left me as the one true humbug who wasn't sporting anything Christmasy. I have to admit, I don't know why I find wearing a Santa hat too Christmasy. I mean, is it any worse than Christmas Eve when  I happily participated in Christmas caroling at Westover Beer Garden? I do enjoy planing the Christmas music, though have to admit that when I sing Christmas carols I hum my way through the "Christ our Savior" parts.

Christmas Music at Westover
Anyway, we did about an eight or nine mile trip out of Spa Creek and down the Severn River into Lake Ogleton (which is no longer a lake). The key thing to note about the trip is that it was increadibly foggy. I was comfortable going out only because I was with people who knew the area well, because there were times when you couldn't see squat. I hadn't brought my GPS, so I really would have gotten turned around if I had been on my own. As we were coming back into Spa Creek we had to stop and wait for a bit . We heard a powerboat. We couldn't see him at all, but we figured he was heading towards the same channel we were. So, we just sat by the channel marker (well outside the channel) and waited until he loomed into sight out of the fog like a ghost ship. We then we followed him in.

Then One Foggy Christmas Day ...

Back in the fingers of Lake Ogleton the fog had been a lot thinner. Dave, an old Coast Guardsman, explained that it had something to do with the temperature differential between land and water. Anyway, we could see and be seen and exchanged lots of "Merry Christmas!" wishes with folks on shore - including a woman who ran down her dock with a toddler in tow to wave at Santa. Cute!

Trip #2: 12/27

I had been looking forward to this trip. A chance to circumnavigate Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge in winter without cold fingers and toes. Unfortunately, warm weather isn't necessarily good weather. We arrived to find the wind was blowing more than predicted and more than any of us expected.(1)

We decided to give it a go anyway. Bogle's Wharf, where we launched, is in somewhat protected waters and we figured we'd paddle to the south end of the island, peek around the corner into the part of the island that is open to the Bay and decide at that point if we wanted to proceed.

It was a workout paddling into the wind and I have to admit that I must be out of paddling shape as I was definitely bringing up the rear of the group. I can explain that Rob was in his super-fast (if tippy) Epic, and that Tall Tom had a longer boat and more natural horsepower. Unfortunately I have no excuse for being slower than Suzanne, who was paddling exactly the same boat I was. Except that maybe I'm weaker than a little girl. New Year's resolution: strength training.

Anyway, we grouped up at the southern point of the island and decided that, (a) we could all handle the conditions around the exposed side of the island, but that (b) none of us really felt like a "survivor" paddle that day. So we turned around and went back. So, we did a seven mile out-and-back rather than a ten mile circumnavigation. Oh, well.

After landing and loading our gear we figured that as long as we were there we might as well explore some of the nature trails. Unfortunately, the trails are all quite short. The longest one was about 1.2 miles, round trip. Still, we enjoyed the little bits of hiking - need I even say that once we were off the water the wind dropped off, the sun came out and it turned into a gorgeous day?

Anyway, when we had exhausted the trails and the visitor center we headed into Rock Hall to try and find lunch, but alas, on a Sunday in December everything was closed. So, we parted ways and headed for home. I was hungry so as I drove I kept a lookout for someplace where I could stop and eat. I wound up stopping in Chestertown where I sat on a park bench in the town square and ate part of the lunch I had packed, and then ducked into Dunkin' Donuts to pick up a coffee and a muffin for the drive.

All in all, a lot of driving for not a lot of paddling, but a nice day hanging out with some good friends.

(1) One of us checked the forecast the night before and pointed out the forecast of wind and fog to the group, but let's not go there.

Friday, December 18, 2015

You Will Be Assimilated

A while back my friend Cyndi had told me that the cycling community is huge compared with the kayaking community and that as I got into cycling I would find people who shared whatever kind of cycling I was interested in: road touring, mountain biking, gravel rides on odd number Tuesdays, whatever. To date I haven't really found this to be the case - or maybe it's too true. I joined a cycling Meetup but every ride is instantly over-subscribed. I joined Potomac Pedalers, but most of their rides are beyond my capabilities. There are so many cyclists out there that I never seemed to see the same people twice. Plus, the cycling world seems to be heavily populated with poorly behaved "Lycra Louts" for whom Spandex bibs are religious garments and who obsess over every aspect of bicycles and bicycling down to the weight of their spoke nipples.

Not for nothing does Pearls Before Swine have a recurring obnoxious bicyclist character.

I have known for a while that there were groups of cyclist who meet for coffee at various locations on various days, but I always had the impression that they were attended primarily by people who stop by for coffee after having knocked out their daily century rides - maybe that was influenced by knowing that Cyndi, who is that kind of person, is a coffee club regular. However, kayaker Gina, who now lives in my neighborhood and is an avid but not extreme bicyclist, assured me that the groups are friendly.

So, Wednesday morning I left early and somehow my EFC to Virginia Square ride picked up a detour to Shirlington. I arrived to find a couple of cyclists, including my neighbor Steve C. (who is a hardcore) there. I joined them and soon more people trickled in. About 15 in all, including kayaker Gina. Everyone was very friendly. When I admitted to being something of a newbie and casual cyclist they reassured me that anyone who enjoys cycling is welcome. I think it helped that (a) I had already signed up for the wintertime "Freezing Saddles" competition, showing my commitment to cycling, and (b) despite the fact that I profess to be a newbie, I do know something about what the sport - and was dressed in appropriate tribal attire (baggy shorts, no Spandex look for me, thank you very much).

The bottom line is that my 3 mile, 20 minute commute somehow stretched to ten miles and two hours, but it was fun and I will certainly be back. Have I been assimilated into the bike borg?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Short Hike in Great Falls

Yesterday I felt the need to get outdoors for a bit. I headed to Great Falls. Parked at the Difficult Run parking lot, hiked around into Great Falls Park, down to the river, then up the Ridge Trail to the Old Carriage Road. Hiked up the Old Carriage Road a ways, then turn around and used that as a shortcut back to the parking lot. A nice loop.

Most of the trees are bare, but this one holdout over the gorge was still wearing its fall colors.

The gray, late fall day seemed almost black and white. This picture of leaves glistening along the trail is not black and white - the scene is just almost devoid of color.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Here, There and Everywhere

The low part of the trip came Friday morning. Bleary-eyed, I left my room, went down to breakfast, drank about twice as much coffee as usual (which is saying something) and then went to return to my room only to realize that I had no idea what my room number was. I actually had to go to the front desk and ask them to tell me my room number. I had gotten in late the previous night after a delayed flight back out of Atlanta, and had gotten to bed around 3 AM. The previous night I hadn't slept well because of job stress, and the day before that had been one of those 12+ hour days I tend to have when I travel. And here I was at the crack of, well, maybe it was 7 AM or so trying to function. Worse yet, I had driven from Richmond (where I had pre-positioned my car and kayak gear before flying to Mississippi) to Williamsburg to be near the kayak group, and they had chosen to paddle closer back towards Richmond to accommodate me since they assumed I was staying in Richmond. So, grabbing yet another cup of coffee I dragged myself out to the car for the 25 minute drive to Eagle's Landing.

Everyone is ready to launch - except my boat is still on the car

Well, no matter. I got to Eagle's Landing only 15 minutes late. The group was still milling about getting ready to leave and so I only held things up a little bit. We paddled upriver through the narrow, upper Chickahominy River, up to the Rt. 155 bridge. There was a lot of water in the river and so we were able to make it up past the bridge into some abandoned, flooded old gravel pits. The pits offered some nice shoreline for a lunch break.

Lunch Break at the pits

After lunch some folks headed straight back. I, feeling surprisingly energetic, joined the sub-group which chose to explore the pits - which are essentially interconnected small lakes - for a bit. Pastor Pete, who used to live in Richmond and paddle this area, thought there was another passage through the pits  to the "Old Chickhominy" which would have allowed us to do a loop to get back to Eagle's, but after several dead ends we gave up and headed back the way we came.

Friday's route is upper left, Saturday's lower right

I had marked waypoints at the little cut-throughs between pits so we could find our way back. I served as navigator on the way back, head down staring at my GPS to guide us waypoint-by-waypoint back to the river. Meanwhile, Jim A. was way out in front as he used his animal-like sense of the lay of the land to naturally find his way back. Like most people I can get turned around on the water - a lot of shoreline looks the same! - but Jim is one of those people who somehow through instinct always knows where he is.

I mentioned earlier that the Chick had a lot of water in it. That was great for extending our paddle to the upper reaches of the river, but it also made for some tricky flows  to deal with as we made our way through the twists and turns of the river. On the way up Linda D. got pinned by the flow against a "strainer" - a downed tree in the river, and on the way back she got taken by surprise by an overhanging branch and capsized. That left us having to do a rescue in a rapidly flowing river - not an easy task. It's funny - the river was no more than 50 ft. across at that point. No one was ever far from shore and no one was in real danger. But still, maneuvering kayak and paddler to a spot where they could be safely reunited was tough.

Suzanne and Pastor Pete rescue Linda

The rest of the trip back was fortunately uneventful and when we got back everyone headed back to the campsite. I hadn't brought my camping gear with me - the whole notion of rolling straight from a business trip into camping seemed like a bridge too far - and so continued to stay at the hotel. I headed back there to clean up. had planned to stop by the campground to catch Paula's presentation on VHF radio usage (as well as Ron's inexplicable group Erev Shabbat service) but on the drive to the hotel my tiredness finally hit me and I chose to nap. Or rather, a nap chose me.

I woke up in time to go to dinner. That was its own little drama, which I won't bore you with. Bottom line, Rob, Sophie, Suzanne, Madeline and I wound up at Two Forks Diner, where some other folks were already  eating. There wasn't much on the menu which wasn't shellfish, pork, or mixed meat/dairy. For me the choice came down to a burger or spaghetti and meatballs. I ordered the latter, which included what may have been meatballs and may have been leftover Civil War cannon balls - it was hard to tell. Well, the place did have a nice, friendly down-home southern diner charm, even if their choice of wines was, "red or white".

After dinner the group headed back to the campground. I returned to the hotel and went straight to bed.

Saturday morning I met the group at the campground as folks were finishing breakfast and getting ready to hit the water. A group of us had decided to paddle straight from the campground's boat ramp, avoiding having to transit to the put-in. This put us on a lower, somewhat more open section of the Chickahominy River. We headed upriver into the wind, which made for a tiring paddle, then did a loop through some marshes - into one creek and out another. We launched at 9:30 AM and by noontime everyone was ready for a break, but in the marshy areas it was impssible to find a landing spot with solid ground and room for 11. Finally, back out on the Chick we found a little beach where we were all able to stop for a lunch break. For the second day in a row I had brought a can of tuna but no utensil with which to eat it. It was one of those cans of spicy Thai seasoned tuna - tasty, but quite oily and therefore messy. But I was undaunted. I stuck a finger into empty wrapper from a granola bar and used it as a scoop to eat the tuna - pretty sloppy going, but well within the bounds of kayak etiquette. After lunch it was a fairly short paddle back - a 15-16 mile day.

November sunshine - Saturday
A highlight of the Chickahominy trip is always the Saturday night potluck. As usual, it was a varied and delicious feast - roast meats, turkey chili, salads, stews, veggies, and potatoes from Ron the potato man. Saturday night was also the only time I got to see the whole group of roughly two dozen, since people were doing different paddles on different days. After the pot luck we went to the adjacent site where the campfire was burning. People were astounded that I was going to drive home that night - until they realized that, though it was dark, it was only 6:45 PM, easily enough time to do a 2 1/2 hour drive and still get home at a reasonable hour. As it happened, while Tall Tom took off at about that time I wound up hanging around until 8 or so - and still got home at a reasonable hour.

And so there you have it - my take on how to visit three cities in two states, do two kayak trips, and most importantly, go cold weather camping without ever sleeping outside, all in 5 days' time.

OK, this is nerdy, even by kayaker standards

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Final PoG Paddle

Tall Tom, Me, Larry, Susan, Whit, Deke, Alan, and Rob

Halloween Day marked the final Pirates of Georgetown paddle for the season. Our usual paddling night is Thursday, but since the club subsidizes an end-of-year event we decided to do an extra Saturday paddle and brunch. The day started grey but turned quite lovely and warm. A great outing with friends. Only Larry and I wore costumes :)

After paddling about 10 miles we went to Sine at Pentagon Row where we all enjoyed brunch drink specials and some yummy food.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Purcellville with Friends

About three quarters of the way through the ride I was composing a dour lead for this post as follows: "Well, you can add bicycling to the list of sports I can't ever do with other people." But, truth be told, I had a good time and the post really deserves a more positive start.

Kayaker Rob has been organizing Tuesday night bike rides this season. Every week I want to go and every week something comes up which prevents my participation. Well, since it's now getting dark early he decided to switch to organizing weekend rides instead, which works out better for me. I'm generally leery of cycling with other people since I'm still quite the slow cyclist, but Rob assured me that it was a leisurely ride and so I signed on.
My Glow in the Dark Friends

The group was Rob, Nelson, Nelson's twin brother HalfNelson (OK, his name is really Norm) and me. We met at the western end of the W&OD Trail in Purcelleville, VA. Our goal was to ride to Ashburn and back, a total of a about 35 miles. We hung together at first, which gave me the illusion that maybe my riding had advanced to the point where I could keep up with other people. Occasionally Rob would sprint out ahead, as did the Labbe twins. I later learned that HalfNelson was a strong cyclist and had recently ridden a metric century (about 62 miles). Even Nelson, on his relatively old, low tech bike, was clearly able to pedal faster than I could. Still, the group kept a mellow pace and stopped here and there and as a result we generally kept together. At the very end of the outbound portion Rob, Nelson and HalfNelson all took off out of sight. It was only then, as they disappeared into the distance, that I realized just how much they had been slowing down for my benefit.

I caught up with them about a half mile later at Carolina Brothers Barbeque, which sits alongside the trail at Ashburn Road. It's a down home kind of place, which is a surprise in the generally nouveau riche plastic suburbia world of "Cashburn". The day had started out grey and drizzly but by the time we got to Ashburn the skies had cleared so we ate outside at the restaurant's picnic tables.

You think I was slow before? Well, the ride back was mostly uphill and I had a belly full of BBQ. I was pretty much riding by myself way behind the pack all the way back - hence my headline for this entry. But I made it, and without any pain. When I first started riding, my knees would give out at around 25 miles - so there's hope for me yet.

Cyndi had recommended that we stop by Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcelleville at the end of our ride. We locked up at their bikes at their convenient bike rack and headed into the tasting room, which is in a building which started life in the 1920's as a Buick dealership. Catoctin Creek's main products are rye whiskey, gin, some brandies, and "white whiskey", which is, well, moonshine.  Given that we live in the hipster era, this was not just any moonshine but organic craft moonshine made in a solar-powered distillery. Oh, and it's kosher, too (is there a big demand for kosher unaged whiskey?)! You could order a flight of three of their products to try, straight up or as three mini-cocktails. I went for the latter, choosing the Bloody Mosby (a very horseradishy Bloody Mary made with their moonshine, which is called "Mosby's Spirit" - after the Confederate cavalry leader, of course), a warm spiced apple cider spiked with rye, and a "Practical Magic", which is Mosby's Spirit, Green Apple KoolAid, pineapple juice and ginger ale garnished with a gummy worm. It was actually pretty tasty. The tasting room itself is a pleasant environment and we unwound and let the Mosby's spirit relax our tired muscles.
Flight of Cocktails
After we finished up we went our separate ways. Nelson, HalfNelson and I had parked in the high school parking lot and rode the half mile or so back to our cars. Rob had parked in town, saying he had been assured that the "2 hour parking" signs were just for show. Hopefully he didn't get a ticket.

I don't know what these guys are drinking, but I'm pretty sure it's not Rogaine

A good outing. I just need to get faster.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not much to say about this one. Just really neat light as we paddled the Boundary Channel last Thursday.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Around the Block at Riley's Lock

At the Launch - Hands Not Cold Yet

The first wintry feeling day of the year - in the upper 30's when I left the house to head for Riley's Lock in Maryland. I guess I was a little bit in a hurry - I forgot a spray skirt! Still, I was otherwise properly bundled up and so didn't anticipate any problems.

Tall Tom had organized this outing. Jim G., Peter H2 and Gina rounded out the group. We headed upriver - that's the preferred direction since downriver leads you into some bumpy, rocky stuff and ultimately Great Falls.

On the River
Unfortunately, my cold hands problem acted up almost right away. The constant flow of cold water over my hands makes them go numb. Then I get nervous because I don't really feel in control of the paddle, and I fixate on the pain in my hands, which makes it seem worse. Between my numb hands and the lack of skirt I kept close to shore, which meant I was paddling by myself. I turned around before the rest of the group. On the way back, with the wind behind me, I started to feel a little better. Still, quite a pretty day on a beautiful section of the river.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Return to the Crooked Road

I was really taken by the scene in Floyd, VA when I briefly stopped here last Spring and I've wanted ever since to return for a deeper visit. I decided to plan a trip for Columbus Day weekend figuring it would be about perfect timing - cool weather and foliage - for Valerie's annual camping trip and would as well as a chance to expose my kayaking friends to this cool music scene.

Planning for the weekend got off to something of a rocky start. As is so often the case, Suzanne and I exchanged some testy email. Valerie dropped out because of back problems. Only a few kayak friends were available to come. Suzanne dropped out because her mom was sick - though she dropped back in soon thereafter. Even the people who were on board from the beginning ran into travel hiccups: Susan and Whit came down with their shiny new camping trailer but experienced some hiccups along the way - initial mechanical issues with the trailer (fixed by returning to the dealer), GPS leading them the wrong way, then they had trouble turning around because of the trailer, setting up in the wrong campsite, and so on. Suzanne and Manuel carpooled and wound up hitting terrible traffic. They were about an hour behind me at one point (I was in Harrisonburg, they were at the I66/I81 interchange) but they hit big backups on I81. GPS led them the wrong way as well (doesn't anyone check maps anymore?) and they would up not getting to the campground until three or more hours after I did. Suzanne was on the road for something like 11 hours!! I was more than a little concerned about their frame of mind, particularly given that Suzanne had been on the fence about participating at all.

Despite all the travel hassles the evening in Floyd was quite awesome. Susan, Whit and I met up at the campground and had some snacks and watched deer and wild turkeys roam the campground while we waited for Suzanne and Manuel to arrive. When it started to get towards dinner time we texted Suzanne - and found out how delayed they had gotten. Ultimately, the three of us decided to head to town after buttoning up our campsites for the expected rain. We ate Mexican food in Floyd (good veggie selections!) then roamed the Main Street a little bit, checking out the impromptu bluegrass jam sessions out on the street before finally heading into the Floyd Country Store. The first act, the Davis & Elkins Gospel ensemble, was just finishing up (it seems the first set is always gospel). The second set transitioned to dance music and as expected, flat-foot pandemonium broke loose. It's a whole lot of fun to watch these folks dance - wish I could join in! I grinned from ear to ear all evening.
Friday Night Jamboree in Floyd
Floyd is a loose and relaxed scene. We watched for a while, got ice cream and then hung out outside for a bit. Susan and Whit went for a walk. Suzanne and Manuel showed up but then went to the Mexican place to get dinner. I wandered in and out. Mid-evening the forecast rain rolled in, ending the impromptu jams - at least for the most part. While we were sitting out front of the Country Store finishing our ice cream a guy invited us in to the barbershop next door, where it turns out some of the local jammers had retreated to get out of the weather. Hangin' with a bunch of locals pickin' bluegrass in the Floyd barbershop, my friends, was a very cool experience. Susan sat down in the barber's chair and I parked myself in what I later realized was the chair for the big hair dryer - I got teased a little bit for that in a friendly way by the locals, given my lack of hair. We sat there listening to this group until 9 PM, at which point we went back next door to the Country Store to catch the last set. It turns out, not surprisingly, Floyd is not a late night scene and the place began to empty out, which allowed us to move up and get a great view of the dancing, which got more intense as the night went on. Flat-foot appears to be a mountain evolution of some kind of Scottish or English country dance. Like "Riverdance" it's all legs and no arms. Unlike Riverdance it's not a synchronized line dance - it's people doing this crazy clogging/tap kind of dance all individually. It's Appalachian St. Vitus' Dance. It's wild.
Pickin' in the barber shop

We finally got a chance to talk with Suzanne and Manuel, who had been sitting a few rows back. They were understandably exhausted and frazzled. We hung out at the Country Store until after 10 PM, then headed back to the campground to turn in.

Saturday dawned cold, rainy and foggy, which led to a slow start. I didn't roll out of my sleeping bag until 7:30. This is late for me anytime, and certainly for camping. I figured everyone else would be awake and well into breakfast, but it turned out that the grey, rainy weather had put all of us into a lazy frame of mind. One good thing was I had put up my pop-up shelter over the picnic table Friday afternoon which gave us a dry place to make coffee and breakfast Saturday morning. At around 11 Susan Whit and I headed over to historic Mabry Mill; Suzanne and Manuel were at that point still only slowly moving towards getting ready. The mill is an early 20th century water-powered saw and corn mill (the ground corn being used as much for moonshine as for cooking!). Very pretty setting. The place was surprisingly crowded - I guess lots of people had planned a Columbus Day foliage get-away, and like us, were looking for a rainy day activity. The only challenge with going to the mill was fog - the whole path along the Blue Ridge Parkway was pretty socked in with fog which made the drive a little nerve-wracking. Whit was driving, and fortunately he handled it well.
Mabry Mill
After we finished touring the mill we headed back (through more fog) into town. We had arranged to meet Suzanne and Manuel at the Country Store for the Americana Afternoon music at 1 PM, but ran into them at the farmer's market across the street, where we all had crepes for lunch. The farmer's market is held in a covered pavilion, which afford us shelter from the continuing rain. Floyd is an interesting combination of redneck Virginia and upscale hippie-dippie. The two cultures seem to coexist surprisingly well (except maybe when it comes to politics). The farmer's market has crepes and kombucha and organic teas and is frequented by a pretty granola looking crowd. The Country Store crowd is predominantly small town America, guys in plaid shirts, wrangler jeans and cowboy boots. But both types show up in both places. Music unifies all, I guess.

The Americana Afternoon is a much mellower scene than the Friday Night Jamboree - solo acoustic guitar folk singers rather than high energy bluegrass. Seating is at tables rather than just rows of seats. No dancing. We all got hot drinks and settled in at a table to watch the music (and, truth be told, to use the store's Country Wifi to catch up on email). We saw two different performers. I'm usually a music guy much more than a lyrics guy but here it was a split decision. Both performers were good. Both had good voices. I liked the first guy's style and sound much better, but his lyrics were a little forced. I think the second guy was the better songwriter, but as I said, I didn't like his musical performance as much. He was a young guy but he sang with a very raspy voice - it sounded like he was working to sound old and world-weary.

The music finished up at around 3 PM. We decided we'd go back to the campground to relax for a bit. It was still drizzly and it just seemed like a good afternoon to crawl into the tents for a bit. Susan, Whit and I made a stop on our way back to the car at the completely incongruous Floyd Computer Museum. Someone has rented a storefront and filled it with old desktop computers (the case from an Apple I, an Exidy Sorcerer, TRS80's and Commodore 64's and the like). According to the kid working there the exhibited items are just a small fragment of the owner's computer collection. We suspect that the owner, one David Larsen, is an affluent local. The computer museum displays included copies of his old "Bug Book", a recipe book for building computer circuits from back in the days when computer hobbyists built their own computers. The Bug Book sounds vaguely familiar to me, and the display said that over the years he sold over a million copies of the various editions. Maybe that gave him enough money to finance his pet projects, like the computer museum and the private campground Whit and Susan stayed at Thursday night - which we suspect is owned by him as well. Anyway, it was back through the fog to the campground. I started this entry then took a little nap.

At a couple of times during the weekend we chatted with the guy in the next camp site, a solo traveler camping from his motorcycle. He was recently retired and had gotten himself the bike (and learned to ride) as a retirement present and now he's spending his time cruising around on his bike. I didn't envy him on the foggy, rainy days - having to either get on the bike and ride in the rain or stay put in his tiny backpacking tent. But the idea is cool.

Anyway, after we had all rested for a bit we headed back into town (through the thickest fog yet) and ate at an Italian restaurant Susan and Whit had eaten at on Thursday. It was quite good - far above what you might expect in small-town America. Then we headed over to the Wildwood Farms Garden Center and General Store for another musical performance. What, your local garden center doesn't have a stage area where they have bluegrass and old-time music concerts on Saturday nights? I guess, then, that you don't live in Floyd.

We got there a half hour into the performance and the place was packed. We barely found parking. The woman who seated us had to go get more chairs to accommodate us. The band, Gravel Road, was a group of local teenagers ages 13-15. They were quite good. The girl who was their lead singer and mandolin player was this skinny little 13 year old, but she has a great voice and tremendous stage presence. She also had the energy, after performing as part of a clogging team in the morning and playing two sets, to get out on the dance floor and do some high energy dancing during the encore. Very impressive! Remember the name Addie Levy (Levy?!); she's going to be a bluegrass star some day,
Gravel Road at Wildwood Farm

When Gravel Road took a break the woman who had seated us, who it turns out is the sister of the store's owner, was the lead singer. She had a soulful, Loretta Lynn kind of voice. She was accompanied by two brothers, older gentlemen, one of whom played the guitar and the other mandolin. They were good, but the kids were better!

I've got to say that all in all Floyd is a friendly scene. No grumbling at the gawking tourists. People are very welcoming and seem genuinely happy that you've come to share in the music with them. Visiting this area is like finding some jungle tribe which had been untouched by Western civilization and modernity - it's like a little section of the past, not preserved in amber, but alive and well on its own terms.

At the end of the show we left the garden center and headed back to the campground. The weather was slowly starting to improve and it was less foggy at the lower elevations, though up on the the parkway was foggier than ever. We had all ridden into town together in Whit's SUV. When we got back to camp Suzanne and Manuel started to walk back to their campsite from where Whit had parked but it was so dark and foggy they couldn't find their way - they had to stop and wait for me (I was the only one who had had the foresight to bring a flashlight) because in they literally could not find their way back to their tents. I walked them to their site and then returned to mine to settle in for the night. The bad news is that the weather hadn't cleared out during the evening as forecast. The good news is that the cloud cover helped keep the temps warmer than forecast.
Scenic View of the Blu Ridge

Murphy's Law of Camping: The weather always improves on the last day. After a rainy, icky, weekend Sunday was a beautiful day. Blue skies and crisp, cool dry air. We all still got a fairly slow start, but eventually got our collective act together and went for a hike along a trail which runs right past the campground. The ranger had told us that parts of the trail were closed due to flooding, so we chose to hike just a short loop section. Great views! It was a nice way to punctuate what had been a very nice weekend. Then, it was off to the business of breaking camp and heading home. I meandered my way up I81, stopping in Staunton to browse the antique shops and then in Harrisonburg for a coffee at the Starbucks. Farther up I81 the GPS vectored me off of the highway to avoid a traffic tie-up and IU wound up on a secondary road through the towns of Woodstock, Maurertown and Tom's Brook, the last of which is barely a town at all. Cute little towns through which to drive - certainly more fun than looking at tail lights on the Interstate. Then the ride down I66, and home.

With Suzanne, Manuel and Whit

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Return to Laurel Hill

This season my bike riding has been focused -  on road riding: commuting on the W&OD, road riding with some local clubs and Meetups, and gravel roads out in Loudon. I've been focusing on my new "adventure" bike for long rides and the old beater for commuting. I haven't touched the mountain bike in the longest time, but I woke up today saying,

"I Want My MTB!"*

I decided to head to Laurel Hill. This is a nice set of mountain bike trails created as part of the reboot of the old Lorton Prison complex. I rode there once before, back in 2013, but really didn't even remember exactly where the place was or what the trail layout was. I spent a bunch of time last night and again this morning looking online for an official park map, but strangely there doesn't seem to be one (I finally found an old one online tonight - not on an official site site but embedded into the com site).

After a little blundering around looking for where I parked last time I wound up parking at the Equestrian Center lot, which turned out to be a great spot to park since it sets at the intersection of a few trails.

I rstarted with the Pasture Trail (this was just the "Yellow Blazed Trail" to me at the time, since I didn't have any kind of map).  The trails at Laurel Hill aren't typical woodsy single track - they're mostly through fairly open meadow. Some of the trails have a deep, narrow gravel-filled groove and riding them is kind of like being a phonograph needle in the groove of a record.* It's weird riding and wobbling along in this rut, but you get used to it.

At the completion of my first loop I stopped to find my bearings and got into a conversation with a guy named Kevin, one of the few other people I ran into on the trails. Kevin is a young dad and mountain biking is his way of getting a little break from the stress of caring for two kids and a big dog. He was waiting for a text back from his wife (he checks in every 45 minutes!) before heading back onto the trails. It was nice to have spoken with him, since we kept running into each other as we each made our way through the park's loops.

I next rode the Dairy Barn Loop ... I don't think I made it onto the Apple Orchard, but again, with no map, I'm not 100% sure where I was. I rode the Workhouse Loop, which is currently interrupted by construction, then rode the Pasture Trail again.
Why Does it Have to Be Snakes?*
At this point I had pretty much exhausted the trails loops accessible from the Equestrian Center (except for the two very technical trails) so I rode out of the lot onto Furnace Road and cut over to the Cross County Trail. My intention was just to cruise on the CCT for a while, but a trailhead for the Giles Run Meadow Trail presented itself. Giles Run is more typical single-track, winding its curvy, undulating way through woods. I wasn't sure if Giles Run was a loop (it turns out it is) and so I did it out and back to a point - I estimate that I rode about half of the loop, so turning around was about the same mileage as completing the loop would have been. I bumped into Kevin on this trail too!

By the time I got back to the Cross County Trail I had been out a few hours so I headed back on the CCT and made for the parking lot, passing through the "barrel bridge" along the way. The barrel bridge is a brick and masonry arch bridge which was constructed by prisoners from the Lorton prison in the 1940's (they made the bricks too!). As everyone knows, this is the only brick and masonry arch bridge in Virginia.

The Barrel Bridge

Loaded the bike, and I was home by noon.

*Denotes dated cultural reference

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tashlich 2015

Here's a quote from RitualWell on what Tashlikh is:

"Tashlikh, meaning "cast away," is a ritual performed on Rosh Hashanah (or during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) as a physical reminder of the human effort to cast away one's sins. By casting crumbs of bread into the water and reciting the verse from Micah—"cast all our sins into the ocean's depths"—we state our intention to return to our true selves. For many Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a time for reciting many words. Through tashlikh, we use our bodies and actions to do the work of return. Although the rabbinic authorities originally objected to this ritual, Jews stubbornly performed it until it became a "traditional" part of the holiday."

Regular reader of this blog (hi Valerie!) will know that my personal ritual is to perform tashlikh by kayak. In years past I'd put little pieces of bread on the deck of the boat then roll. This year was a little chilly and breezy and so I opted to just toss crumbs from the boat. Unfortunately I left home in a hurry, forgetting to pack any bread crumbs, so I had to stop along the way and get something to use for the ritual. As a result, this year my sins were represented by 7-Eleven multi-grain snack crackers. Say what you will about my sins - they are whole grain and gluten free!

My Sins
While I was out I paddled a little bit up Kane's Creek, which was clogged with hydrilla, then over to Conrad Island where I checked on my Bye, Bye, Birding geocache. I finished a circumnavigation of Belmont Bay then headed in.

On Conrad Island
The turtle pond was quite active on this beautiful day, with lots of turtles and even a snake!

A snake in the turtle pond

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Mt. Vernon Trail Leads to Mt. Vernon

This past Sunday I once again varied from my Sunday morning paddling tradition in favor of the bike. I had planned to go on a Potomac Pedalers ride out in Nokesville but was lazy about driving an hour to get to a ride and a little uncertain about whether I'd be left behind (I'm still slow).

Instead I drove to Columbia Island Marina (as usual), but for trail rather than river access. I headed south down the Mt. Vernon Trail all the way to its terminus at Mt. Vernon. A nice ride, mostly along the river. Lots of little curves and switchbacks and lots of people - made for a slow ride. About 30 miles in all, which is a significant distance for me. I was still a little sore three days later when I rode to work.

All that time adjacent to the river made me want to get on it. Tuesday morning I made a spur of the moment decision to go paddling after work. Threw the boat on the car and had a nice paddle (the usual Columbia Island to Roosevelt Island circuit).

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cupcake Ride

Last weekend's NOVA Casual Bike Group Meetup got rescheduled to today, and as an attendee at last weekend's cancelled version I automatically got signed up for it. It was my first day home after Misissippi and New Orleans, but I figured, "what the heck" and decided to go. After all, the alternative would have been to hang out with my mother-in-law.

At the start of the ride in Shirlington the leader announced that this group wasn't the "Bad cyclists" - the kind who speed by you without warning. Here's some of the things I observed the good cyclists doing:
  • Gathering for the pre-ride talk right in front of the entrance to the Shirlington Library, making it hard for patrons to get in and out of the building.
  • Stopping traffic for extended period so the whole cycling group could cross together (cyclists always have the right of way, don't they?).
  • Speeding by other trail users without warning.
  • Ignoring traffic signs on the street and trail.
  • Plunging full blast into a section of the Mt. Vernon Trail where you're supposed to dismount because it's really skinny and a blind curve, causing a cyclist coming the other way to leap off his bike to get out of our way.
  • Swarming a couple's romantic picnic under a tree because we wanted shade on our break.
  • Taking over a whole lane on Water Street.
  • Turning into a chaotic, danger-to-ourselves group as we floundered about climbing the steep but short block from Water St. up to the canal.
  • Misrepresenting a ride as a "Beginner Level", when (by the leader's admission post facto) it should have been Beginner+. 
Cyclists are just an ill-behaved, loutish bunch,

That notwithstanding, it was a fun ride. It's a little weird to be the newbie riding with a group, but most of the folks were at least somewhat friendly.

The cycling world is full of gimmick rides. Today's was a "Cupcake Ride". The idea was to ride from Shirlington to Georgetown to get cupcakes from the famous Georgetown Cupcakes. The cupcake order had been prearranged so once we got there it was a quick pickup. Thirty riders, each having ordered 1-3 cupcakes made for a big order - lots of big boxes of cupcakes. 

The cupcakes had the group's logo on them!

MAMILs eating cupcakes
We took a break to eat our cupcakes by the canal, then it was time to head home. Because of the large size of the group we broke up in both directions into two groups of roughly 15 cyclists. On the way back the leader of my group picked up the pace to the point where, at a break, some people complained about his speed. So after the break he really took their comments to heart and slowed down -- kidding! -- he's a cyclist, and cyclists are d*cks! He continued riding just as fast as he had been before the break, all the way back to Shirlington.

By the time we got back it was after 5 and I was due home for dinner so I skipped the post-ride drink and headed home.

Don't pay too much attention to my kvetching - the ride was a fun time.

And my choice of cupcake was "carrot cake".

Oh, good Lord. I have given in to peer pressure and am wearing a bike jersey (admittedly, a tasteful solid color affair made of merino wool, rather than the garish synthetic kind such as the one modeled by Gary, in the foreground). 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Active Weekend

Well, this was certainly an active weekend. Saturday morning Valerie and I did our monthly 5K. This month’s event was held in conjunction with the Arlington County Fair and the course was primarily several laps around the fairgrounds. We both expected a fairly easy course, since the race was held at 8 AM and the weather forecast didn’t call for extreme heat. Unfortunately, the morning was humid and the temperature climbed quickly as the sun rose in the sky, so it would up being a slow, sticky slog with some significant hills. Still, as I walked from the car to the packet pick-up I enjoyed the unusual sight of people watering livestock in the TJ Center parking lot. Cows at TJ. Cool.

Valerie crossing the finish line

Sunday morning we were out the door early again, this time to go paddle boarding with Ted at Key Bridge Boathouse (nee Jack’s). My limited experience with paddleboards has taught me that they’re more stable than they seem, and so one of the big considerations is the mental game of getting over your feelings of wobbliness. At first it looked like Valerie wasn’t going to make that mental leap and was going to be stuck just sitting on the board, but she pushed through, stood up on the board, and did a really good job! By the end of the trip she was moving at a pretty good pace and even said she’d do it again. Ted, of course, showed off his mad SUP skills..
Huh. Who'd have thunk it?

Mother and child reunion

Sunday afternoon I had signed up to go on a bike ride with the NOVA Casual Bike Meetup Group; however, that ride got cancelled at the last minute. It’s a good thing I checked my email since I could easily have missed the cancellation and shown up and waited at the Shirlington departure point. Instead I just rode by myself. Home, up over Chain Bridge, down the C&O towpath and Captial Crescent into Georgetown, followed the river down, crossed back into Virginia over Memorial Bridge, connected to the Mt. Vernon Trail by scurrying across the GW Parkway like Frogger with a bicycle (there must be a better way to do this!), then up to Rosslyn and out the Custis Trail to home.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Photo Essay of an At-Home Adventure

Yes, this blog is about my adventures in the wilderness, but not all wild adventures involve leaving the house.

I went to make coffee this morning but I had trouble getting to the coffee pot. Someone (my son? his weirdo friend who has been visiting so long that I'm beginning to suspect he's moved in with us?) left some weirdo Asian instant coffee out on the counter, and my other son's electric kettle is there too.

Next, it was time to make lunch. I went to try and get my lunch bag from the hall closet but the door was blocked by many pairs of shoes - my sons', along with the weirdo friend from Detroit who may have moved in with us.

Then, it was back to the kitchen to make lunch. I already mentioned the mess around the coffee pot. The rest of our counter space was covered with other clutter including a gigantic Slurpee mug, our blender, and some ice packs which have been sitting there since last weekend. For the record, I bought those ice packs earlier this year. My sons are welcome to use them, but they need to learn to put things away.

I went to get a container for my salad and discovered that, as usual, whoever emptied the dishwasher just threw the plastic containers into the cupboard and slammed the door shut before the containers could all tumble back out. I had to spend some time straightening things out (this is the "after" picture).

with container in hand I set to making myself a salad. I went to throw out some vegetable trimmings and discovered that the trash is full as always. Someday I must get my family to watch a YouTube video on "how to take out the trash."

The good news is that they cook for themselves. The bad news is that they leave the kitchen splattered with all kinds of goop. Yesterday the floor was covered in home-made marinara sauce. Today it was some unidentified goop on the counter. I went to wipe off the counter, but the sponge was missing in action. I took some consolation in the fact that there were fewer dirty dishes than usual.

Somehow I managed to finish making my lunch. Before I left for work I wanted to check one more thing - whether I had the picture hooks I needed to rehang some pictures. Oops, my workbench is blocked by a large collection of pallets. I could swear that last week my son said they'd only be there a day or so until he dismantled them to reuse the wood for a reclaimed wood desk he's building.

Finally, time to leave for work. I take a quick look around my living room, which is polluted with large Pelican cases. There's also customized Segway parked there. I happily leave this place to go to the office.

Bringing Up the Rear

Yesterday I rode the Lynsky to work. For one thing, I have broken yet another spoke on the beater bike. Also, it was my intention to check out the infamous Freshbikes Tuesday night ride.

I started my day with a nice discovery. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of leaving my bike outside all day and so I went down to the garage in search of a place to lock up my bike - a pipe or something I could lock to. Well, I was thrilled to discover that my building actually has a bike storage cage - in fact, there's two! I didn't have to leave my nice bike out front, and I'll no longer have to chat with the homeless man who spends his evenings in the vestibule next to the outside bike racks.

After work I saddled up and rode the block over to Freshbikes. As regular readers of this blog know (assuming there are any), I'm no fan of cute little bike outfits. I was recently thrilled to learn two biking terms:

Lycra Lout - a term describing the poorly behaved, race-clad biker set, and

MAMIL - an acronym for Middle Aged Men in Lycra

If terms like this exist then clearly I am not alone among the general population in my feelings about bikey fashion, but I sure wasn't going to find anyone who felt that way in this crowd. It was like unto a Lycra Lout fashion show! I was one of the few wearing a regular t-shirt rather than a jersey and also one of the few wearing baggies rather than tight-fitting Spandex shorts. Most of the bikes there were road or racing. I didn't see anyone else on a gravel grinder. A few adventurous souls showed up on MTBs or hybrids.
Waiting for the ride to Start

Anyway, the first Tuesday of the month is the big ride, with police escort through this intersections and food afterwards. I took off with the group (the ride started a few minutes late, in part because of thunder) but quickly fell towards the back. A couple of miles in I was far enough back that I lost the police escort. The group overall got pretty spread out and I was happy that I had taken a look at the route beforehand. I generally had some other cyclists in sight, but it would have been easy to miss a turn.

The ride went through familiar territory including, I'm happy to say, part of the route I used to drive home from Shady Grove. So much nicer to be biking it!

After the ride there was food from Baja Fresh at the little park adjacent to the bike store. Tacos! I chatted a little bit with another rider, who I had also talked with before the ride. Most of the Lycra Louts were busy with their own groups and so weren't too friendly. I ate by myself, then headed up to the office to pick up my backpack, lock and lights. I couldn't resist checking email and wound up working for a bit and chatting with my boss - who was still there at 8 PM.
Dinner Afterwards. Auughh - way too many pretty outfits!

Then, a quick ride home in the dusk. I think I need brighter lights. I'm sure I could be seen, but my headlamp doesn't really illuminate the road ahead very well.

In summary, three miles to work, 16 miles on the Freshbikes ride, and finally three miles home.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Almost to West Virginia

Once again I set out to explore an abbreviated version ofone of Cyndi's Loudon County gravel routes. Since I had been slugging down coffee all the way out to Purcellville, my first destination after unloading the bike at Loudon Valley High School was the terminus of the W&OD Trail so I could use the rest room. While there I overheard some locals giving some very confusing directions to a pair of cyclists. I have to give these riders props: it was 8 AM, they had already ridden 40 miles, and they were looking for some local roads to add another 20 before heading back so that they would finish at an even 100 miles for the day. Still, I couldn't help a little bit of a smirk when the locals asked them, "can you handle unpaved roads?" and they said, "no, not on these bikes." Hah! Chalk one up for the gravel grinder over the fancy road bike. As I mentioned, the two locals were giving them very complicated and contradictory ideas. I hope those guys eventually found their way home!

My plan was to do a loop out west of Purcellville, and down through Round Hill. Purcellville sits pretty close to the West Virginia border and so in my route I also included a little detour off the loop to try to ride over the border into WV. That detour wound up being a very vertical (but paved) road: 700 feet of elevation gain in about 2 miles. I huffed and puffed and made it all the way up. Near the end of the road, though, I came around a corner and was surprised to find a very big dog sitting right in the middle of the road. I was so taken aback that I stopped pedaling and, being on an uphill and being clipped in, immediately came to a stop and fell over. My bikey friends assure me that this happens to everyone every once in a while. Slightly scraped and a little rattled, I watched the dog, which turned out to be obviously old and arthritic. When a cat came over and rubbed up against it I realized it probably wasn't all that fierce and decided to continue on past it.

I rode to the end of Sunny Ridge Road but wound up not quite making it to West Virginia. The end of Sunny Ridge Road led into Mountain Orchard Lane, an even more vertical loose gravel road that I, still a little rattled from my fall, decided I didn't want to attempt on my bike. So, I turned around about 3/4 of a mile short of the border. Next time I head that way I think I'll walk uP Mountain Orchard so I can set foot over the border.

Other than that it was a typical gravel ride: pretty scenery, some filling-loosening washboard ridges, and of course an unplanned deviation from my planned route. I think I need to work out some better sort of cue sheet or use my phone, since on these rides I always wind up on the wrong road at some point. This time I made a wrong turn in Round Hill and cut about four miles off my planned ride by turning onto Rt. 7 back towards Purcellville rather than continuing south for a bigger loop.
Sign Where the Pavement Ends

Upon completing my ride I took advantage of my proximity to the Leesburg Outlets and went shoe shopping! I think I was pretty rank from sweating my way through twenty-something miles, but it was a slow morning in a slow shopping season and the shopkeepers were willing to indulge a stanky customer - particularly one who wound up buying two pairs of shoes.

A bagel and coffee from Panera, and then home I went. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Hike on Mt. Greylock

First of all, let me say that "Mount Greylock" sounds like it should be a terrifying location the Hobbits have to pass through in Lord of the Rings, when in fact it is a pleasant state park in Massachusetts. On a similar note, "Officer Shaft Hunter" sounds more like the name of a gay porn star than the name of an actual Maryland state trooper who lost his life in the line of duty. Don't get me wrong - I mean no disrespect to Officer Hunter or his sacrifice. That's just the first thing I thought of when I noticed that a section of I95 in Maryland had been dedicated to his memory. Perhaps there is something wrong with me.

Anyway, I had been really happy that Valerie had agreed to go on a long hike on the Ashuwilltikook Trail. The trail was pretty and was within Valerie's comfort level of wilderness (flat, paved, and with not too many bugs). Still, I had been jonesing to get out into the real outdoors and had been intrigued by the proximity of the aforementioned Mt. Greylock, which at 3,200 ft. is the highest point in Massachusetts. Unfortunately we were running out of days on our Berkshires trip and I couldn't see how I was going to get away for a day of hiking. To my total surprise, Valerie suggested going there and going for a hike, which leads me to the following conclusion:

The subliminal suggestion app I installed on her iPhone is working.

Anyway, on a grey but comfortable morning we set out for the mountain, which was a short drive from our timeshare. The good folks at the Visitor's Center suggested a hike that took us along a gravel forest road past the park's primitive campground out to a nice vista. Gravel, somewhat flat - again, within Valerie's wilderness tolerance level.

The park's campground was interesting (and deserted, despite it being nice weather and the middle of summer - though it was a week day). There must be bears up there, since each campsite had a bear proof locker. Also, the campground was such a short walk from the parking lot that you really wouldn't need to backpack to get there. You could easily wheel a wheelbarrow full of camping gear up the gravel road to the place and set yourself up the world's cushiest "primitive" campsite.

Valerie Taking in the View
We continued up the forest road until we came to what was, in fact, a beautiful view. We sat at a picnic table and soaked it in in silence for about two minutes, at which time a very chatty group of eight senior citizen hikers arrived and swarmed the area. Eight people meant four pairs in simultaneous conversation, the loudest of which involved one guy's history of dental work. "I have at least 15 crowns. Some of them have been replaced one, some two times ..." This talented raconteur smoothly segued from general dental discourse into a particularly entertaining anecdote about the dental exam he went through when he applied to the Air Force Academy. Just as he started recounting the third day of the entrance process I jumped up and, using the element of surprise, tackled him and threw him over the edge of the cliff. In the stunned silence that followed I resumed my contemplation of the view before us.


As our hiking pal was beginning to recount the third day of his Air Force Academy physical I reached the point where I could not take this root canal of a conversation any more and so we got up and left. We hiked back to the car and drove to the summit. Admission to the park is free, but they charge you $6 per car to drive up to the summit. The good news is that the guy collecting money was on his lunch break when we got to the top and so he just waved us through. All scenic vistas are nice, but a bargain vista is the best! After a quick snack at the lodge (excellent curried squash soup!) we explored the summit. It was something of a cloudy day and so the view from the top was not as spectacular as I'm sure it is other days. Still, it was clear enough for us to see not only Massachusetts but also New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont! The lack of macro scale views also led us to concentrate on the smaller things - there were lots of lovely wildflowers about.
Mountain Wildflowers

Then it was down, down, down. We were a little low on gas and on the way up I was noticing that the "Distance To Empty" indicator was going down about four miles for every mile we drove. Fortunately, with gravity in our favor the indicator barely budged on the ten miles back down the mountain.

Cheers to Valerie for enduring a somewhat hilly, bear infested, cloudy mountain hike!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday Valerie was ready for a little downtime and so I set off on my on for a bike ride on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. We had hiked three miles of the trail (six miles round trip) a couple of days earlier and I set out to ride its entire 11.8 mile length. I parked at the southern trail head in Lanesborough and set out.

View Along the Ashuwillticook Trail
After the first mile or so I started covering the same section we had walked, which includes some lovely lake views. Past our walking turnaround point at Rt. 8 in Cheshire the trail turned more remote, with fewer buildings in site and thicker vegetation surrounding the trail.

At about mile 10 I pulled into Adams. I decided to take a quick detour through the town, figuring that if I found a decent place to take I break I'd stop there; otherwise I would continue on to the northern terminus in North Adams. As I was riding through town I heard a loud "SPROING!" sort of noise. I've heard that sound on this particular bike before, but it took me a minute to realize what it was - a broken spoke. My Marin is a pretty bulletproof bike, but has a flaw in that the wheels have a low spoke count. I think this leads to too much stress on each spoke, leading to broken spokes. Over the years I've popped a few - mostly when I used to tow the boys in a bike trailer.

With the spoke broken the wheel went out of true, making the bike impossible to ride because the wobbly rim would rub against the brakes. In retrospect, I could have opened the rear brake to eliminate the rubbing and tried riding home. I'm not sure this would have been a good idea: I think I was better off broken down in the town of Adams than I would have been if the wheel had disintegrated further somewhere on one of those remote stretches of trail.

In my brief ride through town I had recognized that Adams is not exactly a happening town. Few businesses were open on a Wednesday afternoon. I chained the bike up and wandered into The Daily Grind, which I had already eyeballed as a place to take a break. It's a dusty old coffee shop and was completely empty save for the three people working these. When I asked for the cup of coffee the proprietor made clear to me that he didn't have fancy coffee drinks, just the Thermoses of coffee over on a side counter. He said he had tried fancy drinks and selling high end beans but "the town wasn't ready for it." I assured him that all I was looking for was a regular old cup of coffee. I poured myself a cup of what turned out to be a lukewarm brew and sat down at the counter. I explained my situation and asked if there was a taxi service in town. He seemed doubtful that I could get a taxi on short notice other than having one come up from Pittsfield, but he did give me the phone book so I could try the couple of services listed. Unfortunately, I had no cell phone service (cell phone service in the Berkshires is terrible!). I was about to ask them if I could use their phone when the proprietor came up with a novel solution - he had an old bike in the back he would lend me to ride back to my car. Then I could drive back, return his bike and pick mine up. Actually, he said he'd be just as happy if I made off with his bike! It had been sitting in the back for any number of years and he just hadn't gotten around to getting rid of it. Which gives you some idea what kind of shape this bike was in ...

I used my pump to put some air in the tires (Presta valves!), checked the thing over and off I went. I only filled the tires part way for fear of popping the old tubes. I also avoided shifting the front derailleur since it looked extremely gunked up. The rear shifted fine, so with the half-filled tires I had a hybrid which functioned in essence like a 7 speed beach cruiser. It was something of a nerve-wracking and uncomfortable ride - riding this too-small bike and praying it held together for ten miles, which fortunately, it did!

By the time I got back the restaurant was fairly busy and I got some strange looks as I wheeled a bike through the place. The owner was by that time busy with the dinner rush and so I gave him a quick thanks and went on my way.