Monday, December 26, 2016

Bicycle Fun Club: Del Rey Christmas Lights Bike Tour

First things first:

I always like to associate my blog entries with the date they happened rather than the date I write them. As a result, sometimes I write entries that sneak in behind the one which appears on top. What I haven't realized until now is that as a result, my vast readership winds up missing these entries as they're never on top. So before you read this post, go read these two:

Off Topic: Giving Thanks and Shenandoah Spookout

Now, back to business:

My biking friends organized another "Bicycle Fun Club" ride - these rides are relatively leisurely, short, fun rides, usually associated with an event or theme. My kind of riding (as opposed to, say, the Hains Point 100, where people rode a Century (100 miles) by riding thirty-some-odd laps around Hains Point). This time, we were going to join up with the Del Rey Christmas Lights Bike Tour. On the grounds that this ride promised to be "no drop" and slow and family friendly, I convinced Valerie to join me. We drove our bikes down to Del Rey, where we unloaded and decorated them with battery-operated lights - my string of LED camping lights, some EL wire we had gotten as a prize at a Chesapeake Paddler's Association holiday party, and of course, assorted bike blinkies. We then joined some friends who were meeting up at St. Elmo's Coffee. We were a little on the late side so I had just enough time to slug down a cup before our group headed out to meet the overall ride.
At St. Elmo's (a little distorted by Panorama mode)
The group took off on what turned out to be a twisty-turny route through Del Rey. It would have been nice to have had a cue sheet, but I think that the organizers scoped out the best streets for viewing lights right before the ride and so didn't have time to put one together. At first the group stayed together and, being a highly illuminated mob of cyclists, had the mass and visibility to take the right of way as we rode. Valerie hadn't been on her bike in a while and so as the ride progressed we fell to the back of the pack. "No drop" means that there'll always be someone waiting at the turns to make sure the people at the back don't miss any turns (they were reasonably good about this, though not perfect). It does not, however, mean that anyone will hang back with you and so for parts of the ride it wound up being just the two of us riding by ourselves - though we'd keep catching the group when they'd stop to look at houses.

Now, Valerie doesn't see all that well at night and doesn't have a lot of road riding experience and so having to cross streets by ourselves in the dark freaked her out a little bit. By the end of the ride she wasn't having a good time. Fortunately, at the very end of the ride we all managed to group up again and rode as a big, blinking, traffic-clogging blob of bikes up Mt. Vernon Avenue back to the start.
Checking Out a House Along the Tour

Since, unlike many of the participants, we hadn't ridden there, we went to put our bikes away and so got separated from our group. Fortunately, we ran into Nadine from Dominion Hills who knew where they had gone. We caught up with them, managed to squeeze two more into a small dinner table, and had a nice dinner.

So, Valerie did the bike tour, we saw some nice lights, and we got to do something unusual, funky and fun as part of our holiday season.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bicycle Fun Club: Alexandria Boat Parade

I've said before that I never actually ride bikes with my friends from the biking world, I just meet them for coffee. Well, occasionally there's an exception. Coffee club friend Judd is organizing a series of "Bicycle Fun Club" rides over the winter - fairly short, moderate pace rides - stuff that is within my capabilities.

Tonight's ride was from The Crystal City Water Park to Old Town Alexandria to see the illuminated boat parade. I had originally planned to do the ride starting from home, but time got away from me and so I wound up putting my bike in the car and driving to Columbia Island Marina, where I bumped into Deke. I bump into Deke everywhere.

It's a quick ride from Columbia Island to Crystal City. Still, I hadn't allowed quite enough time and I was the last one there. No problem. The group, which at that point numbered seven, hit the Mt. Vernon trail and headed to Old Town. Alexandria has been on another of its periodic traffic enforcement binges, which can mean expensive traffic tickets even for cyclists, and so we were careful to stop at every stop sign and ride with extra care.
Bob's composite of lighted boats. The group favorites included the locomotive (middle right) and the paddlewheel steamer (lower left). Personally, I had a soft spot for the Channukah boat (upper left).

Lighted Boats

We parked our bikes and watched the boats from Founder's Park. Some of them were pretty cool - there was a boat lit up to look like an old-fashioned locomotive, one that looked like a paddle-wheel riverboat, and a Channukah boat all lit up in blue. During this time Peter H2 and his daughter Sophie joined us (Gina was part of the group) and so did someone else's wife and daughter, bringing us to a total of eleven. Miraculously, when we went to eat we were able to get a table for eleven at Bilbo Baggins restaurant - well, actually it was a table for eight that to which we kept adding chairs as people arrived. I got a 10" personal pizza and a beer. I swore I was going to eat only half the pizza. Well, maybe half plus a slice. Or two. I ate the whole pizza. To make up for my gluttony, while a lot of people ordered dessert, I abstained.
Two views of the table

On the ride home we went our separate ways, since folks were heading home rather than back to the starting point. The group of us who were heading back up the Mount Vernon trail started out by heading west out of Old Town, which confused me since the Mount Vernon Trail runs north out of Old Town. I had been following Judd, since I thought he was heading back up the Mt. Vernon trail, but he and Josephine soon peeled off, leaving just four of us continuing on this odd route. Odd, but not incorrect - it turns out we were headed for Commonwealth Avenue and the new Potomac Valley trail. This trail pretty much parallels the Mount Vernon, and is a better choice at night since it's straight and well lit. This trail runs all the way up into Crystal City, but we took it only as far as where it intersects Four Mile run. At that point, Gina headed west, and Bobco headed home to the West End of Alexandria, leaving just two of us riding the Mt. Vernon trail. I don't remember the other guy's name - it was someone I hadn't met before. He was riding all the way back to Silver Spring!

I'm always a little freaked cycling at night - an uneasiness about the darkness fueled by having grown up in dark times in New York - and so I was glad to have someone with whom to ride. I was also glad that this guy had a bitchin' bright headlight, since my little light wasn't really cutting it in terms of seeing where I was going. I was in front, but it was his headlight from behind me really lighting up the trail. We rode together as far as the marina, where I ended my ride. I assume he made it back to Maryland OK!

The next Bicycle Fun Club ride is the Sunday of my upcoming whirlwind weekend (New York, then home to play  a gig). I'll probably be too pooped to go. But I hope there's more!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Off Topic: Giving Thanks

Yes, I know this is supposed to be about my outdoor adventures, but I do sometimes sneak in some music-related posts. After all, I do have to do outside to get to gigs, don’t I? Maybe I should rename it “One foot outside, and the other one tapping the beat.” Anyway, indulge me …

Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend I played Sehkraft Brewing with Shawn Cody and the Kodiaks. I love these guys. We play only a handful of gigs per year, often with little to no rehearsal, but thanks to the combination of talent and experience these guys have (combined, I’ll admit, with choice of straight-forward material), we can get up on stage and make it happen. At this gig we were indeed strong right out of the gate and were sounding good.

Among the audience there were four women who were hard to miss. Attractive, dressed to kill and clearly out for a good time. They spent a lot of our first set dancing as a group in front of the stage. I was at the bar getting a beer in between sets when one of the women approached me. Think Marisa Tomei circa Anger Management. She said, “I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed hearing the accordion. That’s not something you hear every day. I was getting ready to leave [she had her coat on] but I’ll stay a while if you promise you’ll play more accordion songs.”

I already had lots to be thankful this year, but I want to give particular thanks to whatever positive life energy allowed me to have this experience.

And yes, I did add a little extra unscheduled accordion music to the second set.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Coffeeneuring 5.2: Celebrating Life By CitiBike

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with what I thought might wind up being my final #coffeeneuring ride. I had been tired of sitting one short of the required number of rides and so I took a quick ride over to the Lee-Harrison Center and got coffee and a lousy donut. It was a coffeeneuring ride in the letter of the law, but maybe not in the spirit. I wanted to do better. My thought had been to do something grand: maybe break my previous distance record (which isn't that many miles, to tell ya the truth) or ride to someplace really special. Then, while I was staring with glazed eyes at the election results in Wednesday morning's paper, the phone rang. My mother-in-law had died. In short order I was in New York City, supporting my wife and her family. Family first, politics and coffeeneuring later.

I have written before about how natural biking is in New York. It seems that everywhere you look there's someone on a bike, and every street sign has a bike locked to it. Mostly cheap utilitarian bikes chained up with locks that weigh more than my road bike. I've seen some ingenious anti-theft hacks, like quick releases secured with screw-down pipe clamps to make them more theft-resistant while still keeping the quick release (making it a slow release, I guess), not to mention the spray-painted "is it a cheap bike or a good bike?" look. As a result of having grown up in this cycling city I often roll my eyes (and kvetch in this blog!) about the way we make biking a big "thing" in DC. To me it's like making a big F-ing deal about bipedal walking. But I digress ...

After the funeral we all needed a little time to decompress, each in our own way. My wife went back to her mom's condo to take a nap. Her sister went out for a walk. I saw an opportunity to celebrate my mother-in-law's life with a coffeeneuring ride through her beloved Upper East Side neighborhood. NY now has widespread Citibike (the NY equivalent of Capital Bikeshare) kiosks and Manhattan now has some pretty good bike lanes. I already had the Citibike app on my phone (forethought!) and so all I needed to do was purchase a day-use pass.

Citibike station

I didn't have time for much of a ride, but enough to get a taste of mother-in-law's New York. She and I were both raised in Brooklyn, and both had a great love for the vibrancy of Manhattan. Manhattan was always "The City", to those of us in the outer boroughs (those of us in Brooklyn technically lived in the city, but not "The City"). I picked up a bike on E. 76th St. & 3rd Avenue and off I went. Street clothes, no helmet - just like every other cyclist I saw (except for the delivery guys, who wear helmets and reflective vests). First I rode east on 76th St. There's no bike lane on this street - just pedal hard and play nice with the flow of traffic. I turned north onto 1st Ave., where there's a protected bike lane. Drafted behind a Domino's delivery guy for a couple of blocks until he turned left. Rode past a fruit stand loaded with luscious produce. Past the pizza place. And the other pizza place. Past maybe I don't know how many other pizza places. Past the guy standing in the middle of the lane shouting incomprehensible stuff to no one about Obama. Checking out the people, the cars, the stores, the energy.

The bike lane runs along the left side of 1st Avenue and so cars turning left onto cross-streets have to cross the bike lane. Three times on my ride uptown I encountered a vehicle turning left across my path - a car, a Town Car, and a truck. Three times I hit the brakes expecting to be cut off. And three times, to my surprise, the drivers yielded to me and let me continue. Drivers in New York are as crazy and aggressive as can be, but it turns out they respect cyclists!

Up I rode into the Yorkville neighborhood, turning left onto 89th St. then left again onto 2nd Avenue to head back downtown. 2nd Avenue has a nice protected bike lane as well, but after a couple of blocks the lane dead-ends due to Second Avenue Subway construction. For a moment I was stymied as to what to do.  I couldn't turn left or turn around, as that would have put me going the wrong way on one-way streets. Turning right would have involved crossing multiple lanes of flowing traffic against the light (New York drivers don't respect cyclists *that* much). That left one option: ride in traffic on a major Manhattan boulevard. Just then a cyclist bombed by me, flowing with the taxis and I spotted a delivery guy biking along the other side of 2nd. Heck, if they could do it, I could too! Off I went, mixing with the traffic. Yes, I took a lane in front of a tour bus to get around some construction. Yes, I got creative - looping left around the curb side of a double-parked UPS truck, then moving right back traffic. This was high stakes riding. I am Frogger, hear me roar! But the funny thing is, in a way it actually felt safer than driving on the same streets. In New York, when you're in a car, the other cars compete with you - it's a Roman chariot race. When you're on a bike, they actually give you some space.

Finally, I turned left onto 78th St. and returned my bike at the corner of 78th and 1st, where I also helped another renter return a bike. The Citibike kiosks work pretty much the same way as CaBi, and so I was the relative "pro" even though it was my first ride too.

From there I walked up 1st Ave. to the first coffee I could find, at Agata & Valentina. Nothing fancy - just a plain old decaf. I saw a nice looking chocolate biscotti displayed in a jar on the counter and ordered it. The woman behind the counter said that it was actually only half a biscotti and so she'd give it to me for free. Another tribute to my mother-in-law, who loved free stuff.

Coffee and free mezzo-biscotti at Agata & Valentina

An exhilarating ride capturing the energy and excitement my mother-in-law loved about her city.

As a postscript, I've got to mention that as a freshman in college I did a project in "Engineering Design 101" class about adding bike lanes in New York City. This was a pretty way-out idea back in those days, when we were all still riding high wheel velocipedes and cars were king. It's mind-blowing to me to see similar ideas actually come to fruition a mere 135 years later.

Mea culpa: when it was time to load up at the end of the trip I double-parked and blocked the bike lane, just like everyone else.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Shenandoah Spookout

So, I took some time off in between jobs. My idea was to spend about half my time catching up on the “to do” list so that I could go into my new job without worrying about that kind of stuff, and the other half doing fun things. As it happened, the weather throughout the period was absolutely lovely and so it was hard for me to focus on anything but outdoor activities. Well, one day I decided spontaneously to head out to Shenandoah National Park. I just had an urge to be in the woods, to hike. I knew that the foliage post-peak, but I wasn’t really going for leaf-peeping.

Since I hadn’t planned this trip my first step was to hit the computer and find a hike that I hadn’t done before, which was fairly accessible, had something to recommend it, and was about the right length. That led me to the idea of doing a hike on some of the trails out of Mathew’s Arm campground area. There’s a nice hike there that leads to what is supposed to be a pretty waterfall. Unfortunately, this choice turned out to be problematic. At the entrance to the park I noticed a sign saying that the campgrounds, including Mathew’s Arm, were closed for the season. I asked the range if I could still get to the trailhead there. He said yes, but that I would have to park across the road at Rangeview and hike down into the campground. What turned out to be good about this is that it gave me the opportunity to see  (from the outside) one of the few remaining WPA bunkhouses – the houses that were built to lodge the workers who built the park as part of a New Deal construction effort in the 1930’s. What was bad is that it added quite a bit of distance to hike down Skyline Drive and then down the access road into Mathew’s.

It should be said that I’m pretty good at scaring myself. As I walked into Mathew’s Arm I thought about the fact that I was kind of light on supplies (just basic day hike stuff) and that I was going into a part of the park which was closed off and would probably deserted. Pus, no one knew I was there. Needless to say, I soon conjured scenarios where I injured myself or was attacked by a bear and died out in the wilderness because no one knew where to look for me – my very life depended on the ranger at the entrance remembering that hiker who asked about Mathew’s Arm. Sad to say, I can whip myself into this kind of frenzy even while hiking in suburban parks. I drive myself nuts.
I found the trail head at Mathew’s Arm and proceed with my hike, soon adding the worry that I’d lose the trail, since there was a thick carpet of newly fallen leaves, making it hard in spots to follow the trail. That latter fear was alleviated a little when the trail turned into a wide forest road. 

I hiked out the Mathew’s Arm trail, hitting the junctions with the Weddlewood and Beecher Ridge trails as expected. I have to add that in the entire time since I left the car I had not seen a single other person, reinforcing my idea that I was alone in the wilderness. As I approached the Tuscarora trail junction, not far from the waterfall, all of a sudden all the hairs on my body (yes, I have some) stood on end and I spontaneously turned around and started hiking in the other direction. I’ll never know whether I had sensed something ahead of me on the trail (a bear!) or whether I had just succeeded in scaring myself into irrationality, but something told me to turn around rather than go on. So I did. That’s why I can say only that Overall Run Falls is “supposed to be” pretty – I never quite made it there to see it for myself. Needless to say, on the way back I started to run into other hikers, and when I got back to the Mathew’s Arm lot there was a crew there working on some repairs. It turns out I was far from alone out there.

When I got back to my car (BTW, there were other people in the parking lot) I felt a little short-changed since I had cut my hike short (the extra distance to get to the trailhead notwithstanding) and so I did a short hike there. I hiked about a mile up the Appalachian Trail (1 mile down, 2159 to go!) to Range View cabin, one of the PATC cabins in the park. It was unoccupied and so I sat down on the front porch, had a snack, and enjoyed the view. The day had warmed up nicely and so I laid back for a bit and enjoyed the warm sunshine. Finally, I hiked back to the car and headed home, stopping at Spelunkers in Front Royal for a somewhat-earned milkshake. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Coffeenuring 5.1: Donut Ride

There reaches a certain point in your life when you see things not only as they are, but how they used to be. So I'm sitting on the bench outside Duck Donuts, the self same bench that was there when that store was occupied by Baskin Robbins. Envisioning sitting there watching my kids when they were little vilde chayas sticky with melted ice cream and jet-powered by sugar, running around and around the little area beside the store.

The ice cream shop is long gone, replaced by the dreary Duck Donuts. I'm not much of a donut person, but since Duck opened with great fanfare a while back I had been meaning to get over there to try the place. Today I toted up my coffeeneuring rides to date, realized I had been sitting for a week just one ride short of the required seven, and decided that this is how I would finish up my coffeeneuring patch requirements. I think I had donuts on the brain since late-of-Pasadena Gina had reported a donut ride (Sugar Shack) on Strava this morning. The net result is that this afternoon, after some long overdue music practice, I saddled up the old straight bar beater bike and rode over to the Lee Harrison Center.
Coffee and my incorrect donut

Ordering at Duck Donuts should be easy. The only food product they sell is a single kind of donut. You get to choose a glaze, a topping, and a drizzle. I went for peanut-flavored glaze, chopped peanuts and a drizzle of hot fudge. Unfortunately, the woman behind the counter omitted two of the three when she put my order in and so what I got was a donut with just hot fudge glaze. That's 2/3 wrong, like ordering a mushroom pizza and getting a crust with mushrooms on it. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. On the plus side, the same woman brewed a fresh pot of coffee for me since the existing one had been sitting for too long. The upshot is that they get a mediocre grade for customer service (considering both the coffee and the inept order taking) and "meh" about the donut. I probably won't go back. But I did get coffeeneuring ride #7 in, so there was value to the outing. Now I can get my little patch!

Don't tell the WABA crew - I sometimes ride my bike without first changing into a fancy bike-specific get-up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Day Off Twofer

I'm taking a little time off in between positions - just a week or two to relax, unwind a little bit, and put the ugly denouement of my previous position out of my mind. However, I'm not really good at downtime - you know, when you spend hours of time on the couch zoning out to Netflix, or reading a book cover to cover. I like doing things more than not doing things. So today, I decided to go kayaking. But first, I had to go bike riding.

Last night I played music with Shawn Cody and the Kodiaks - the first time we had gotten together since our gig at the end of the summer. By the time I got home from Shawn's place in Nokesville and dragged all my gear into the house (I'm too paranoid to leave anything in the car overnight) it was around midnight. As a result of getting to bed late I slept in all the way to 6 AM, which meant that when I woke up I had to pretty much hop into clothes and head right out the door to make it to the cyclist Hump Day Coffee Club in Shirlington. Yes, I skipped my usual stretching and pre-breakfast breakfast. I did not, however, skip my pre-coffee coffee; I had a cup as I got dressed and ready. Dear readers, do you really think I would ride five miles to Shirlington before sunrise without at least one cup of caffeine fuel?

Coffee Clubbers at Best Buns
Today's weather was lovely and warn and the group, which had moved inside last week, was back outside today. You can see me way in the back in the pic. And then my phone rang.

Last August, when my job was starting to get wobbly, I sent out a bunch of resumes. As is the case these days, I heard nothing back about most of them. One government agency, though sent me any number of somewhat cryptic automated updates via email - essentially saying that my resume was progressing through their process. But obviously, it wasn't progressing too quickly. This morning at about 7:30 AM while I was at Best Buns, 2+ months after I applied, I got a call from that agency urgently wanting to set up a phone interview - today if possible! So, even though at this point I already have a job I'm about to start, I agreed to do the phone screen. The job I had applied for was an interesting one at an interesting agency and I figured it was worth it just to learn a little more about what they're up to. My intention today had been to take advantage of the warm temps and go kayaking, but I figured I could delay a half hour. After coffee club I biked home, loaded my kayak gear, and then took the call. It turns out that the two people on the phone asked four questions (What is your name? What is your quest? What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?) which I had about 30 minutes to answer, but didn't really provide any more info about the job than had been in the job posting. Oh, well.

Once I finished with the interview, I headed out to Fountainhead Regional Park. I try to make it to this park every year around when the leaves change. In summertime the Occoquan Reservoir makes for some rather dull paddling - it's a long, fairly narrow strip of water. In autumn, though, it comes alive with color. The water reflects the trees on both banks, and on sunny days like today it's simply gorgeous. 
Along the Occoquan

I paddled the five miles from Fountainhead Park to Bull Run Marina, stopping frequently along the way to take pictures. At one point I sat still as I drifted towards a heron so I could get its picture. I was so focused on the heron that I almost missed the deer watching me from the bank mere feet away. I got some lovely foliage pics, plus pictures of the aforementioned heron and deer, turtles and cormorants. 
Deer on the bank

It had been my intention to take a lunch break at Bull Run, but when I got there I was reminded that it sits beside a very noisy road so instead of stopping there I found a quiet little cove on the way home where I was able to get out of the boat and dig into my delectable lunch of bread, nuts, string beans, and for dessert, coffee and the "stump" of my muffin from Best Buns. After that I booked it back towards Fountainhead.
Blue Heron

Needless to say, I bumped into Deke when I was almost back to the marina. Deke is everywhere. Today he was paddling with Hector, whom I had never met but who I know of because he leads a lot of Meetup trips. Hector seems like a good guy, plus he has awesomely custom-decorated his boat and paddle. His kayak looks like a graffittied 1970's New York subway car. I wish I had taken a picture- it's pretty cool. 

After a stop at Whole Foods, I finally made it home at about 6 PM, tired but happy. 

Bike Strava:
Kayaking Strava:

Oh yeah, my new car - it's awesome!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Chincoteague Weekend

Valerie once said that her ideal vacation wasn't about a particular destination - it was going away with a good group of friends. Not being a people person (to put it mildly), I think in terms of dream destinations, but I guess she has a point. I mean, I don't think Teaneck, New Jersey makes many "Top Ten Vacation Destinations" lists, but the night before my recent Manhattan circumnavigation the group went out and had an uproariously fun dinner at a Yakitori restaurant in Teaneck. It was the people, not the place. So, when Bela's new bride Leigh came up with the idea of a fall getaway weekend, I saw the opportunity to make a couple of days of the group trip thing come to pass. And in a place much nicer than Teaneck.
Lavinder house view

One challenge for me is that Valerie's not a kayaker, and so is not necessarily going to have a good time on a trip where all everyone does is talk, eat, drink, and smell like kayaking. Leigh is another non-paddler, and so in this case I knew Valerie would have someone to hang with. When Rob signed on for the trip I also encouraged (successfully!) him to invite his wife, who is only a half-hearted paddler/camper, along. There's actually more to the organizational story of this trip: I won't go into all the Chinc-intrigue of how this trip became cross-threaded with a long-planned Pirates of Georgetown get-away, or how this trip squeezed out a trip to a PATC cabin, but when the dust settled there was a happy ending. We had ourselves a mega-weekend: ten people staying at the rented Lavinder House (a funky old place once owned by actress Linda Lavin, but Alice doesn't live there anymore) plus three more at the house Jim owns in town. 

We all rolled in over the course of Friday afternoon. Friday night was spent settling in, catching up, enjoying the sunset, and planning Saturday's paddle. Food was, as usual, abundant. Friday's dinner included multiple variations of chili to suit everyone's tastes and constraints: vegetarian and meat, with and without onions. There was cornbread, and there was delicious fruit crumble for dessert. And Rob, freshly home from one of his many international trips, gave up some much needed sleep and took the time before the weekend to prepare the potions required to make the group's favorite cocktail, the bufala negra, and so we were all well-oiled.
Friday night socializing

The forecast for Saturday was a windy one, and so with input from local expert Jim we planned a trip on the relatively protected waters between Assateague and Chincoteague Islands. Our plan was to launch from a marina at the southern tip of Chincoteague and paddle up in between the two islands. Normally it can be fun to venture out into Tom's Cove at the southern end of Assateague or even go around the island and poke out into the ocean, but we figured that for this trip it conditions were going to be too rough to do any of that. However, the forecast high winds weren't due to start until late morning. When we launched Saturday it was pretty calm and so with consensus from the group we decided to risk paddling down to some of the more exposed areas. Our decision was rewarded; down at the south end of Assateague we were joined by some dolphins and got to paddle in conditions that were playful - choppy enough to be a little interesting, but well within our skills. Still, we could tell things were picking up and after watching the dolphins for a while we turned around and headed to the more protected waters that were our original destination.
Trip planning for Saturday

As if dolphins weren't enough, as we paddled up along Assateague we saw ponies grazing by the water's edge, and in a shallow spot (we were paddling at low tide and it got shallow enough that at one point we had to walk the boats over a sand bar) some of the group found a live conch in the water. We chose to take a lunch break at a beach within sight of the ponies, for a true Assateague experience.
Suzanne and a dolphin
Lunch break
Our route - we traced a picture of an egret!
After lunch we continued north for a ways, but the wind was really starting to pick up, blowing up to 20 KT coming from the west southwest - meaning we'd be paddling right into it on the way home. Indeed, the ride back turned out to be a workout as we fought the wind and the waves. Larry actually had to be towed for a little bit when his back started spasming from the exertion (fairly or unfairly, we turned to Tom to be the tow truck). As I've said before, if I'm going to paddle in a strong wind I'd rather paddle into it than have it coming from just about any other point - it's hard to keep control of your boat with following waves, and beaming waves want to knock you over - but paddling into the wind is a workout! Slowly and steadily, slowly and steadily, we made our way back to the marina. 

Meanwhile, back on land Valerie, Leigh and Barbara spent the day having a good time visiting the yarn shop in town and visiting the Assateague lighthouse. There's a saying in the bike world that the correct number of bikes to own is "N+1", where N = the number of bikes currently owned. [1] Clearly, similar rules apply to kayaks and skeins of yarn.
Sunset selfie
Saturday's sunset

Saturday delivered a particularly beautiful sunset and so we started the evening with appetizers (including Valerie's widely praised baked brie) out on one of the house's several decks. As the light faded we retired inside for another fabulous dinner, this time a Mediterranean chicken, with homemade strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert, followed by the inevitable orgy.


The evening was spent in more good conversation. I'm a guy who has had a total of five addresses in his life: three in New York City and two in Arlington, and so I'm always in awe of the world-hopping experiences of this group. Bela and Rob in the kitchen comparing notes on Senegal. Marilyn's recent experience teaching English in China, Yvonne in the living room mentioning how last week she bumped into her old friend the Eritrean ambassador to the U.N. at her Ecuadorean cousin's wedding on the International Space Station (OK, I'm exaggerating - but only a little), and so on, and so on. The conversation was hot and heavy enough that we thankfully never gave an opening to that guy who brings instruments and traps the group into listening to his pitiful musical caterwauling. The only music was the singing of "Happy Birthday" to the three people whose birthdays fall in close proximity to the weekend.

Dinner is served!

Sunday we all had to be out early. Lavinder House rules require that you be out by 10 AM, and Jim's group was getting out at about the same time. After a breakfast which featured something called a "Dutch Baby", we packed up and headed out. A subset of the group went out for another kayak outing. Sadly, Valerie had been getting phone calls all weekend relating to her mom's declining health and so we headed straight home so that she could prepare for a trip up to see her mom. 

Despite the sad family under-current, it was a really great weekend. The only negative thing I can say about the trip is that it was too short. 


[1] This is one of the rare times I'll reference the widely quoted, but odious, Velominati Rules.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Coffeeneuring #3.3: Change of Seasons

It's funny writing this today: it's October 30th and today's temperatures were in the high 70's. I can tell you that last Wednesday it felt like winter was just around the corner. It was in the low 40's and still dark out when I hopped on my bike to ride to Hump Day Coffee Club. It was my first day bundling up for the winter - balaclava, full fingered gloves, long pants. My hands still got a little cold. I got to coffee club to find everyone else similarly bundled up, and the gathering had moved from the outdoor tables to inside. Today's anomalous weather notwithstanding, the cold is coming!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Coffeeneuring #3.2: Hooky Ride

As I've mentioned in recent posts, my job is temporarily in a fugue state. I have finished everything I needed to do at my old position, but my transfer doesn't take effect for another three weeks. So right now I go in and do things which are productive for me and for the company long-term (like online training and reading related to my new position) but I might as well be invisible at my current position. I get no emails. No one talks to me. This is quite a change from before I handed off my responsibilities, where I would typically get 20 emails during my ten minute drive home (more when I biked, which takes longer!) and always had a stream of people and phone calls. Anyway, it's hard to get motivated to even show up and I've been doing a lot of working at home. Which no one even notices. I'm going to enjoy it while I can, because three weeks from now things will get busy again.
This ride started with a drive in the coffee-themed car

I have also been freaking out a little about the commute for my new job. I'll be teleworking about half the time, but the other half I'll have to go up to Ft. Detrick, which is fifty miles from home. Fifty miles in DC area traffic. So today I decided to test out the drive and do a little exploring of things I can do up in Frederick on days when I want to wait out traffic. I brought my bicycle and decided to do one of the rides listed on the web site of Gravel and Grind, a bike/espresso shop in Frederick (I expect to become a regular customer!). Their listing for this ride makes it sound pretty vertical and so I was expecting a lung-searing experience but in fact, while it did include a nice climb (about 800 ft. of elevation gain, over 1,000 feet of climbing with all the ups and downs) and a few steep sections, it was a pleasant ride out of town, through suburbia, into the countryside and up a gravel road beside a stream and then Fishing Creek Reservoir. With the changing fall colors is was quite pretty. If cycling was like this I might enjoy it more :)
By the stream

As usual, I didn't do a good job of following the cue sheet. In fact, I lost the cue sheet part way up - it fell out of my pocket - and so I navigated the rest of the way using RideWithGPS - except I don't have the paid version and so couldn't do turn-by-turn navigation. Instead I just stopped whenever I was confused and looked at where my little blue dot was relative to the route. I made it all the way out without incident, except that I rode a little past the route's end. My track tops out at 999 ft. of elevation, while the shop's RideWithGPS file tops out at 971. If I had realized I was at 999 ft. I would have ridden a little further to break 1,000! The route's turnaround point is a little pullout at the side of the road - on my way back I did stop there for some water and a snack.
Gorgeous autumn gravel

I rode the brakes all the way down the gravel part of the ride. It was pretty loose gravel and I didn't want to slide out, plus there was a limit to how much jolting my kishkes could take (I don't know how people ride fast on gravel without full suspension bikes). By the time I got back to pavement my hands were tired from gripping the brakes. Maybe it was the way I was zooming along once I got back onto pavement, but I messed up and missed a turn (the web site description does note that this is an unmarked turn) and so I didn't do the exact loop they laid out. My route was a slightly different loop and the good news is that I eventually found my way back to town.
Enjoying the day

I figured that parking downtown would be time-restricted and so I had parked at a little neighborhood park outside of the downtown area. At the end of my ride I rode past my car and continued into downtown Frederick. Frederick is a cool little town with a lot of nice dining options, but my ride had taken longer than I anticipated and I wanted to get back before traffic started building, plus I wasn't really dressed for fine dining so I just went into Starbucks and got coffee and one of their ersatz panini.  
The requisite coffee shot

Then it was back to the car and back to Arlington. With an audio book and a few calls to make the ride didn't seem all that long, which is a good sign.

Well, I ruined my goals of not doing any of my #coffeeneuring rides at SBUX and doing them all in Arlington, but it was worth it for a pretty country gravel ride on a glorious autumn day.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Coffeeneuring #3.1

The end is near! The end is near!

The end of our unseasonably warm October weather, that is. I don't usually go to the Friday coffee club (even though Java Shack is very close to my office), but this has been a bad week for exercise and so I decided I needed a little extra time on the bike.

I have to admit, I like riding in traffic. Maybe it's the legacy of having grown up in New York City, where bike lanes were non-existent and bike paths were rare (though I regularly rode what has been described as the oldest bike path in the United States - even after my dad broke his hip when he was hit by a car while biking there). When I ride on a bike path I kind of zone out, but riding in the streets requires a continuous mindful awareness. You have to be in the moment, watching the movements of every car and every pedestrian. Every parked car could pull out with warning. Every light could change unexpectedly. So, while I started my ride on the W&OD/Custis Trails, I got off at Glebe Road and took the main streets from there rather than the more path-oriented and less traveled route of going to Quincy St. then taking side streets.

I have been hanging around the coffee clubs for the better part of a year now and I've gotten to know a lot of the regulares. I knew almost everyone there, which was nice. As usual I had already had a small cup of coffee at home, along with some yogurt. Java Shack has a pretty poor selection of food and so I never plan on eating there. Their claim to fame is pie, but (a) I'm not much of a pie eater, and (b) that goes double for breakfast. So, I ordered just a large coffee (an excellently swimming pool-sized cup) and sat outside with the guys.

Still dark - nothing visible but the sign

I lingered a bit, but eventually I got on my way. I had other places to go - just not exactly directly to work. I've explained in my recent posts that I'm wrapping up one position and waiting to start another, so my work days are pretty undemanding right now. In fact, I would guess that no one even notices whether I show up. So, I hopped on my bike and headed in the direction away from my office and rode the rest of the Arlington Loop. Another gorgeous morning, but the southerly wind we had started to feel while kayaking last night had continued and intensified; my ride down the river was noticeably into the wind.

I stopped for a minute at Gravely Point. It's impossible for me to totally resist the urge to stop and watch operations at National Airport from this point on the trail, which sits pretty much right at the end of the main runway. With the wind out of the south the planes were taking off to the south and so unfortunately I didn't get to experience the rush of planes taking off right over my head, just a stream of departures away from me. I continued on ...

On the Custis Trail
Not much more to report on what was a very nice ride; however, I will say that I'm glad I went for a ride in the morning. By mid-day the weather was changing. The skies were gloomy and the temperature was dropping. At about 2 PM the heavens opened up with a drenching rain.

This weekend it'll be back to bundling up to ride, run and paddle. Glad I enjoyed the warmth while I could!

Strava Link:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Coffeeneuring #2.2

Good heavens we've been having good weather! The sad truth about life today is that every time I revel in unseasonably warm weather I fear I'm talking up the positives of climate change, but still ... what nice weather! Mid-October in the mid-Atlantic with highs in the 80's. When I was a kid we used to call this kind of weather "Indian Summer", but I'm not sure that term is still acceptable. But, it does raise the point that we had this kind of weather when I was a kid, so maybe the phenomenon I'm enjoying isn't global warming after all and so I can enjoy it without guilt!

Which is a long-winded way of saying that this week I kept my usual Wednesday morning coffeeneuring appointment. As I have described in previous posts, the D.C. area has any number of weekly breakfast gatherings of cyclists. Every weekday has at least one. Wednesdays at Best Buns in Shirlington is my favorite, since it features a nice mixture of people - not all hardcore Lycranauts, people who are able to speak about other topics in addition to cycling. 

Good heavens I love their bran muffins

What's funny is that over the year or so I've been going to these groups I've developed a bunch of good friends, but I never see these people outside of coffee. I've said it before: My kayaking friends are the people with whom I kayak; my cycling friends are the people with whom I have coffee. I don't do a lot of organized cycling events and am definitely too slow-and-steady for most group rides, so coffee it is!

Right now I'm kind of killing time at my job since I'll be starting a new position in a few weeks, so I stayed until the bitter end, enjoying every minute of the patio, the company and my coffee and muffin.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coffeeneuring Ride #2.1

Let's start with these facts:

1. It's a gorgeous, sunny, 80 degree day in mid-October.

2. I'm basically killing time at my job since I'm about to transfer to a new position and no one really expects me to do much of anything.

3. The Coffeeneuring challenge is underway.

4. I was short-changed on my outdoors time this AM due to yet another aborted run.

5. My son borrowed my car today, which took kayaking off the table (he left me his Miata but that didn't help for carrying a kayak - though I have seen it done).

The signs all point to ... #coffeeoutdoors #coffeeneuring!

So here's how my day started: After sleeping fitfully I woke up with the intention of going for a run then heading to the office. I'm thrilled that I have been able to run again after a month and a half of some sort of asthma or allergies so severe that it would become painful to breathe after about a minute of running. So I headed out the door and ... wait a minute, suddenly out of nowhere I have some sort of muscle cramp/strain in one of my groin muscles. I didn't feel this while stretching - where did it come from? Well, having learned the hard way from many years of making matters worse by trying to exercise through pain, I decided to quit. Another run aborted after about a minute.

This put me in a really bad mood and, knowing that I really didn't need to interact with anyone at work anyway, I decided to just work at home. On such a nice day I should have spent the day on the back porch but I wanted to multi-task between work and getting files transferred over to my new laptop, so I worked at my desk in the basement.

By about 2 PM I couldn't take it anymore. The outside called, sore muscle or not! It was time for a #coffeeoutside adventure ... albeit a local one. I packed water, coffee, AeroPress and Jetboil and headed for the bike trail. I rode down to Glencarlyn Park where I set up shop in a nice spot on the rocks beside Four Mile Run. Coffee was soon ready, and I had a pleasant time sipping a fresh cup and listening to the flowing water.
My Workplace

Just so's you knows that I'm not a total slacker, I brought my computer along and while I drank my coffee I watched some videos from a Coursera course I'm taking on the topic of Data Analysis. I'm not sure if there's a #geekycoffeeoutdoors hashtag, but in this case such a thing would apply.
Coffee & Coursera Outdoors

Strava Link:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Coffeeneuring Ride #1.2.1

In yesterday's post I lamented that because it was a religious fast day I wasn't able to use a Coffee Club as my coffeeneuring entry. Well, today I decided to do a replacement for that ride, hence the 2.1 designation. Call it a patch release of my second ride.

I was looking for some AM exercise and so I decided to head down to the "Whole Thursday Foods" coffee club, known by its acronym "WTF", which meets at the Whole Foods in Crystal City. Crystal City is pretty far out of my way, but that's OK - I was looking for a ride. Trouble is, it was dark and foggy when I left. Out on the bike path, with slightly foggy glasses and no illumination, it was really hard to see anything. I would come up on runners and walkers and not see them until I was right on top of them and I could barely see the path. Fortunately I know it pretty well. I angled my light down pedaled along slowwwly, following the center line or the edge of the path as a reference. I've never felt so much like I was biking under IFR! I bailed from the bike path at Columbia Pike and took the Pike the rest of the way over to Crystal City. Columbia Pike isn't pleasant riding - no bike lanes, lots of cars - but today I chose it over the bike trail because it was well lit!
Chris takes a selfie, as always

I arrived at Whole Foods to find no other cyclists there. Since I was off yesterday for the holiday I keep getting mixed up as to what day of the week it is and I had a moment where I thought that maybe I had gotten the day wrong; however, just then Peter and Chris (not Peter Chris, the drummer from KISS) rolled into view and I relaxed. They had had to take it slowly too - but of course, their slowly is a lot faster than my slowly. I watched the Strava FlyBy replay and saw Pete come up on me like an F22 on a Cessna - I think he and I missed each other on the trail only because he was catching up just as I made the turn onto Columbia Pike.

I had thought that since the coffee club is named after Whole Foods that people got their coffee and breakfast at Whole Foods. I guess I shouldn't take the names too literally, Hump Day coffee club, for example, doesn't involve ... never mind. Anyway, while we did consume our coffee while sitting outside Whole Foods, we purchased our coffeee and food at to the new  Commonwealth Joe coffee place up the block. The place is a little too hipster for me (do you want cold brew? Pour-over? Espresso-based? Drip?), but they do make a good cup of coffee! They also had some really good scones - which were much too chewy inside to be proper scones, but whatever they were, they were really tasty. It's amazing how many coffee places have mediocre pastries (I'm looking at you, Kindred), so it's good to find ones that have yummy food. Maybe they buy it at Whole Foods :)
This *is* a tasty beverage

Since I was out of my usual AM biking range I asked the group for advice on the best way to get to Ballston. I guess I should have provided my definition of "Best", which to me, trying to get to work, meant "shortest". Instead, the consensus was for me to take a route down Eads Street to the poop plant where I could pick up a bike trail. That was pleasant riding (protected bike lanes and bike trail) but was probably a couple of miles longer than the most direct route would have been. And it was still foggy, though at least it was light by this time! It was only while I was riding along Four Mile Run on the bike trail that the fog finally burned off. And along the way, Peter, who left (according to Strava), like 15 minutes after I did, passed me. Again.

Anyway, I made it to work with no issues and wound up taking several more bike rides today - to the Courthouse to do early voting and back to work, and then home. So, I plussed up my 6 miles of commuting to over 20 miles today. Not too shabby.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Coffeeneuring: Ride #1.2, Not According to Plan

All week I had been figuring that I'd log my second coffeeneuring event by attending my favorite of the DC area weekly coffee clubs, the Wednesday Hump Day Coffee Club (HDCC) at Best Buns in Shirlington. After all, this coffee/cycling  intersection is a pleasurable regular part of my weekly routine and deserves to be celebrated as a part of coffeeneuring. However, a fatal flaw in my plan dawned on me just last night – this Wednesday is Yom Kippur, a holy fast day in Judaism. That meant that Wednesday was going to be  really, really poor choice for AM socializing and breakfast. I momentarily thought about riding Wednesday anyway (HDCC starts at 7 AM, and religious services not until 9) and just sitting and not eating or drinking, but since I wouldn't be able to consume any coffee it wouldn't qualify as coffeeneuring. I instead quickly hatched an alternative plan to replace HDCC for this week with another commuting coffee: a detour to the Ballston Buzz Coffee on my way to work. HDCC will have to wait. 

I was particularly conscious of the time because I really wanted to catch my boss first thing this morning to discuss the fact that I had, um, sent him an email last week saying that I was quitting (well, transferring, really), and oftentimes first thing in the morning is the only way to catch him. Needless to say, it took forever to get going.

Do you ever have one of those mornings where you just can't seem to get out the door? 
  • I didn't want to saddle myself with two complete clothing changes at the end of the day (Jewish holidays run sundown to sundown and so there are services tonight) and so I decided to ride "mullet style", that is, business on top, party on the bottom: dress shirt, stretchy hiking pants and sneakers. No bike shoes, no bike socks, no padded shorts (hey, the ride is only 3 miles). So I had to figure out what to wear instead of grabbing bike gear by rote.
  • Since I was going to be riding in street clothes I decided to ride my hybrid bike. This bike hadn't been ridden since July so I had to pump up the tires, give it a once over and move my rack bag over from my usual commuter.  
  • With clothes and bike squared away I was ready to head out the door, but where was my phone? I almost always plug in my phone in my bedroom at night. I would say there are maybe three nights per year I don't do this. This was one of those nights. I searched the house, couldn't find it. Searched again. Checked the car. Had I dropped it at Home Depot yesterday? 
  • I decided to use technology to help me find my phone by checking the online "FindMyiPhone" to make sure the phone was, in fact, at the house. I went to log into iCloud, which required that I change my password since my present one no longer met their security standards, then it made me update my security questions, then I had to log back in, then answer the security questions I had just entered, before showing me that my phone was indeed at my house. The truth is it was within arm's reach at this point but it took a bit more hunting and calling it from my home phone (yes, I still have a land line) to find it. 
  • Having found my phone (allowing me to start the all-important Strava app) I thought I was ready to leave but I realized that with my non-standard riding attire I had forgotten to grab the bike room key for my office building (I keep the key with my cycling stuff). Back upstairs from the basement to retrieve it.  
  • At this point I finally made it out the door: total time to get out the door, about 45 minutes. 
The ride to Buzz was, fortunately, uneventful, except for the usual looks of disbelief from the Lycranauts at the vision of someone riding in street clothes.  I ordered a dark roast coffee (admittedly, not my first of the day – yes, I have coffee before I go out for coffee rides in the morning – Hello, my name is Jesse and I'm a caffeine addict), but it was so late by this that I didn't really linger. The window to meet with my boss was closing. I snapped a pic and drank the first half cup and wrote the first paragraph of this entry, but then I grabbed my coffee and the bike and walked the block from Buzz to work. 

Coffee at Last!

I got into my office and quickly changed my pants and grabbed the black shoes I keep at work. And wouldn't you know, one of the shoelaces broke. This left me having to put on brown shoes, which, to my horror, don't match the black belt I'm wearing (yes, I know I am risk of being excommunicated from the male gender because I care about stuff like this). I headed for my manager's office, where he and I had a one minute conversation, basically to set up a time to talk later in the day. I then went back to my office where I swapped a shoe lace from one of my brown shoes so that I was able to rectify the horror of the mismatched leathers. 
Note 1 to self: Changes from the routine to save time don't always save time.  
Note 2 to self: Plan a more relaxed ride for my next coffeeneuring outing!