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!