Sunday, June 14, 2015

33.1 Miles, most by bike

This weekend on Saturday Valerie & I did our monthly 5K event, this time in Annandale.

At the end of the 5K - a hot, sticky one!

Sunday I rode from Swain's Lock to Edward's Landing on the C&O Canal tow path. 30 miles round trip - my longest ride since I started back riding. I kept the gears nice and low on the ride out to preserve my knees (plus did plenty of stretching before starting). On the way back I picked up the pace a little bit but still was a slowpoke by most standards. Riding on a flat, gravel trail means little coasting. The good news is that 30 miles of pretty much non-stop pedaling and no knee problems! My butt is a little sore from 30 bumpy miles, but that's to be expected.

In our area you can throw a dart at the map and it's almost certain to hit somewhere with Great Civil War Significance. Edward's Landing is where Gen. Hooker's 75,000 men crossed the river on the way to fight at Gettysburg.

This guy crossed the trail in front of me
River scene - heron and turtles
Selfie at Lock 24

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reasonable Bikey People!

I do not know the person who wrote the blog post below. I came across her blog because she wrote something about a mutual friend. But she seems to be quite a serious cyclist (for example, it appears that she owns 11 bikes). Yet she is not a slave to pseudo-racer fashion! In fact, in the post linked below she speaks out against doctrinaire bike fashion, saying that regular clothes are fine for local riding. Apparently if you look hard enough there is a sanity to be found among bikey people.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Seeing Nashville by Bike and 'Yak

I have found myself changing jobs on short notice (this is a good thing) with a little break time in between positions. I spent the first part of my downtime decluttering and getting some home projects done, as getting in control of things like clutter makes me feel more in control of life overall, but felt the need to hit the road for a little bit. Where could I go that would offer  a good selection of outdoor activities as well as other things to do? I thought about hopping a plane to Croatia to kayak the Dalmatian Coast and tour Dubrovnik, but there wasn't enough time to organize such a trip. I thought of Maine - great kayaking and cute towns - but gosh darn it, it's still *cold* up there: air temps in 40's/50's, with dry suit level water temps. I have a positive thermotropism - I gravitate toward warmth, not cold. Thinking cap back on. My favorite combination of activities is music and outdoors, which led me to think of ... Nashville.
There are a handful of cities in America which really pulse with music: I have experienced Austin and New Orleans and have had Nashville on my list as well. Sure enough, I saw plenty of music - which  I won't cover at great length here since this is an Outdoors blog, but I will say that there's a wide choice of live music in the city, seven days per week, starting as early as 10 AM! There's just music everywhere. I even tried to get a chance to perform while I was here. I saw that the famous Bluebird Cafe has a songwriter's open mic on Mondays, but just this week they changed the way you sign up from in-person to by phone and the phone system either wasn't working or instantly got overloaded at sign-up time. I wasn't able to get through to get a slot :(
Flat Tire Selfie
Getting The Flat Tire Fixed at Walmart
I drove down on a Sunday, and stayed at an AirBNB place in East Nashville (hipster part of town). It was a cool old railroad worker's cottage which is an outbuilding from someone's house - very nicely remodeled and decorated. The drive down was tiring - 650 miles, plus a flat tire - and so I didn't feel like going out that evening. I hit a local East Nashville hipster burger joint called The Pharmacy for dinner (black bean burger and a German Pilsener), picked up some groceries, and went back to the cottage to plan my activities.

View from a bar stool: Tin Roof
Monday morning a light, drizzly sort of rain was falling. I had discovered that my lodgings sat very close to a point on the Music City Bikeway, a collection of bike trails covering the city, and that it was only a three mile ride to downtown. I had brought the Marin with me and was itching to take the bike path downtown. I waited for a while for it to stop raining, per the weather forecast, but it wouldn't stop. Finally I said "what the heck", threw on a rain jacket and hopped on my bike. The section of the Bikeway between the cottage and downtown isn't particularly scenic, going past railroad sidings and scrap metal yards, but it's a quick shot and seems safe. A few turns of the pedals and I was in the heart of the city. I rode around a bit, getting the lay of the land before locking my bike up outside the Symphony (the only bike rack I found downtown). I wandered into Tin Roof, one of the honky-tonk bars on lower Broadway and parked myself at the bar. The music at that hour was an acoustic duo - quite good, actually. I ordered some food and an *un*sweet tea (it's Tennessee - you have to specify unsweet if you want it that way) and spent a happy couple of hours chilling and watching the music. I finally pried myself off my barstool and moved on to The Country Music Hall of Fame, which I enjoyed much more than I expected. The exhibits covered a lot about the roots of country and its relationship to rock, as well as featuring not just the stars but the sidemen. I skipped some of the exhibits about current country stars. During the day I found that walking around with a bike helmet on a rainy day is a good conversation starter - a few people commented on how I picked a bad day for biking.
A highlight from the Country Music Hall of Fame
By the time I left the museum the rain had stopped. I was ready to head back but was feeling a little piqued and so I biked over to nearby CREMA coffee, where I was the most decidedly non-hipster person there. I figure I'm at least as cool as the other patrons' parents - who are probably more my contemporaries. Still, I had my bike helmet with me so I wasn't just some old dork - I was one of those old dorks who bikes everywhere and is therefore cool! Speaking of cool, that's an excellent adjective for my cappuccino. Apparently hipsters are more interested in the cafe scene than on actually having their coffee heated up. I savored my lukewarm beverage and a scone, then pedaled home. Conclusion: bicycle is a good way to do urban sight-seeing. No parking hassles, a more intimate connection with the city, and a conversation starter. [Note that this advice does not apply to New York. There, the best outcome is to have someone steal your bike before you have a chance to be in a fatal car accident.]

Monday I ate dinner in at the cottage then headed out to a great show - Larry Cordle and Friends (consisting o Carl Jackson, Val Storey, Mike Bub, Aubrey Haynie, Larry Atamaniuk, and fantastic keyboard and pedal steel players whose names I didn't catch). at The Station Inn, a classic dive bar in a neighborhood known as The Gulch. The whole group was made up of Nashville pros - people you've probably never heard of unless you read country album liner notes, but who were all remarkably good. My favorite show of the whole trip. Admission was a reasonable twelve bucks, and beers (I ordered a Flat Tire ... I mean Fat Tire - ha!) were cheap.
Larry Cordle and Friends at The Station Inn

Tuesday it was time for a more serious bike outing. I once again hit the Music City Bikeway, but this time headed away form the city, which took me onto the Shelby Bottom and Stone River Greenways. The Shelby Bottom Greenway parallels and eventually crosses the Cumberland River, then from there the Stone River Greenway takes you out through suburbia and some rural spots (cows!) all the way to J. Percy Priest Dam. I have written before about my knee problems at about 20 miles. My friend Linda had recommended gearing down to reduce the strain on the knees. I could argue the logic either way (yes, reducing strain is good, but if what I'm experiencing is a repetitive motion injury wouldn't more rotations make matters worse?). I decided to try her approach. All day, whatever gear I felt I should be riding in, I rode lower, all the way down to the granniest of granny gears. As a prophylactic measure I also did a few IT band stretches before the ride and repeated them during my lunch break at the dam. The good news is that I rode 24 miles round trip without any pain. Great! The only downside was that riding low gears on the Marin meant a slowwww ride - maybe 10 MPH average speed. All told, a nice outing through the Tennessee countryside/suburb-side. After resting for a bit I had a (disappointing) dinner at Five Points Pizza, a hipster pizza joint in East Nashville then spent the evening at the decidedly non-hipster (unless I was enjoying it ironically?) Grand Ole Opry.
At J. Percy Priest Dam Wild turkey along the trail A paddle wheeler goes by as I cross the Cumberland

The Gatlin Brothers at the Grand Ole Opry

Wednesday it was time for kayaking. Yes, in addition to the bike I had brought a boat (with all this stuff on the roof I got 18 MPG on the drive down!). Remember the dam to which I biked on Tuesday? Well, on the other side of it is a big recreational lake. And I must say that these Tennesseans take their water recreation seriously. The lake has a number of public boat ramps, well marked with signs, well maintained, and with nice parking lots. It seems like half the time when I launch onto the Chesapeake I'm using some abandoned antebellum ferry landing where you have to step over logs and animal carcasses (true story!) to launch and you're lucky if there's a parking area other than a trash-filled, muddy road shoulder. So these Tennessee launches were a great surprise! I paddled for about three hours. Not too much to report - lakes are lakes. Saw deer several times, herons, ducks, and geese. It being a weekday, the lake was pretty quiet (I imagine there are more power boaters on the weekends). You know what's another good conversation starter, though? A wooden sea kayak. As I loaded the boat an old codger with a Stihl Chainsaws trucker hat and a molasses thick Southern accent struck up a converation. We talked about the boat, about the weather, about how he has relatives in Virginia.
On J. Percy Priest Lake
I think he's a lonely guy who goes down to the park to chat with whoever is there - fishermen, etc. Eventually I had to extricate myself. From there I drove to the 12 South neighborhood where I browsed the (few) shops - and had some amazing, amazing barbeque at Edsley's. I was going to grab coffee at The Frothy Monkey, but the line of hipsters (this town has a lot of hipsters!) was almost out the door. Wednesday night I headed back downtown to a Songwriter's showcase at The Listening Room. It was the early show (6 PM), so I had some food - a salad and a good local Pale Ale. The show ended at about 8, at which point I went back over to lower Broadway and poked my head into a few shops and honky-tonk bars. The honky-tonks have to book a lot of bands, and so not all of them can be great. I went into two bars and the bands were, well, I could have held my own in these bands. I headed back to the cottage and just relaxed for the rest of the evening.
At The Listening Room
Thursday it was finally sunny! I started the day with a run in Shelby Bottom park. I meant to run for my usual 5K-ish distance but got a little lost on the trails and wound up running an extra mile. At home I usually go for a three mile run at Four Mile Run, but here, nowhere near Four Mile Run, I went for a four mile run. Get it?

I had had so much fun exploring Nashville by bike on Monday that I decided to do it again Thursday, this time venturing much further afield. I biked over the pedestrian bridge and through the Music Row area, which was exciting to me as a musician - recording studios, publishing companies, the Nashville bureau of Rolling Stone magazine. Signs outside buildings congratulating songwriters whose songs have been recent country hits. Cool to have a whole music district. 
Sign in the Music District

From there I continued to the Hillsboro neighborhood, which was supposed to have some interesting shopping. I found that the cool Nashville neighborhoods recommended in the guide books tend to be closer to the scale of Del Ray rather than Georgetown or Times Square - each has just a few blocks of stores, and that's it. I strolled the couple of blocks of interesting stores (bought a souvenir for Valerie)  and had lunch at the historic (since 1961) Pancake Pantry restaurant. I had a savory dish of cornmeal cakes with cheese and jalapeƱo peppers. Yum! Then I went across the street to a coffee shop and had a cup of coffee while I typed out the beginning of this blog piece. Hillsboro was a little less hipster than the other neighborhoods I visited; the coffee place seemed to draw heavily from the adjacent Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Suitably caffeinated, I biked through the Vanderbilt campus and back across town, taking a route through Midtown (nothing to report) back to Downtown. I wanted to stop back in at a hat shop I had visited the night before to have a second look at a hat, which I decided not to buy (the night before I had bought a newsboy cap at the same store and had browsed the felt fedoras). I once again hung out for a bit, listening from the street to the bands at the honky-tonks. Then I biked back to the cottage. Nashville is pretty bike friendly. Most of my travels were on bike lanes, which motorists seem to respect. I once again really enjoyed using the bike as a way to get around. I probably biked 12-15 miles in all, which wasn't bad on top of my four mile run.

Biking around Downtown
Thursday night I attended a free outdoor concert by the Nashville Symphony (all American program - Gershwin, John Williams, etc.) and then went back to the cottage and streamed the season finale of Nashville. Watching the finale of Nashville on my final night in Nashville. 

Oh, and on Thursday I ate dinner at an East Nashville (yes, more hipsters - though this appeared to be a place hipsters take their parents) vegetarian restaurant called "The Wild Cow".  I had a sampler of tacos (peanut tempeh, sweet potato  & black bean, and chipotle seitan). The sweet potato one was a little too sweet, but the others were excellent! I indulged in dessert next door at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

Friday morning it was time to pack up and head home but, gosh darn it, there was a boat ramp on the Cumberland River right in Shelby Park - walking distance from the cottage! I just couldn't leave without using it. I paddled down into the heart of the city to see it from the water, about 5 miles round trip. The Cumberland is a small river (maybe as wide as the Anacostia) and was quiet, though it is in fact a commercial river. At one point a tug pushing some barges went by, causing some really interesting wave patterns as its wake reflected off of the two banks. This was the only boat traffic I saw on the river. It was early, 6:30 AM on a weekday, but still - the Potomac would be alive with crew-boaters and fishermen at that hour. As I was leaving a SUP paddler was getting ready to launch - at least there's someone else using the river recreationally!
Downtown Nashville from the river

From there I packed up my gear and headed for home, making a detour along the way to check out the Friday night dance at the Floyd Country Store in Virginia. The neat thing about the dance is that it's really a local event: old-school Saturday night entertainment for the locals, many of whom can really dance! One style of dancing I saw there was "flat-footing", which is like clog dancing, but done individually. At the Hall of Fame I had watched some film footage from the 1930's showing a mountain music band with some folks dancing to it - and what I saw in Floyd was clearly an evolution of the same dances and the same must, eighty years later. Old mountain traditions, very much alive. Very cool.
Floyd Country Store Friday Night Dance