Cyclist Assault on the W&OD

This never happens.  Sexual assaults?  There have been a few over the last 15 years. Collisions?  Of course.  Cyclists hit by vehicles at crossings?  Sadly, several.  Angry words exchanged?  Every day, I am sure, and several within my hearing.

But “road rage” attacks?  Never, until I heard this on the radio a couple of days ago:

A bicyclist was seriously injured Sunday on one of the area’s most popular bike trails when another cyclist reached out and struck him as they passed each other, authorities said.

It sounds horrible.  Somebody just reached over into the other lane and smacked another rider.

But wait; there’s more.  In the expanded Washington Post report, the story goes on [I disavow and deplore the painfully clunky prose you are about to read]:

According to the sheriff’s office, the victim was headed west and reportedly on the center line of the trail as he tried to pass two other cyclists. A cyclist going in the opposite direction purposely extended his arm and struck him on his helmet, the sheriff’s office said.

The westbound cyclist fell to the ground, the sheriff’s office said. The other cyclist rode off to the east, the sheriff’s office said, heading toward Ashburn Village Boulevard.

In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the suspect in what they described as an assault wore a white/light green shirt, a helmet and sunglasses, and was about six feet tall.

According to the office, his bicycle was said to resemble a time trial bike or a triathlon bike. The bars on the bike were “aero bars” and his helmet was an “aero” helmet covered with a sun shade that covered half his face, according to the statement.

Now it’s a whole different thing, right?  Clearly the “victim” was on the wrong side of the yellow line, not “on” it.  Check out the photo, taken at a place not far from the incident;

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The W&OD Near Ashburn Village Boulevard

there’s not enough room on that section to pass without getting out of your lane.

So it is easy to infer that the “suspect”, the tri-bike guy with the white/light green jersey and the aero helmet, was faced with a speeding cyclist coming at him on his side of the trail, passing other bikes headed in his direction on their proper side of the trail.  He had no place to go except way over to the edge or off the trail.  The shoulder varies in width and quality, but it’s never a good place to be forced onto at a second’s notice.  It’s easy for me to see why the “suspect” would want to smack the “victim,” or true assailant, who had put himself, the “suspect,” and others in harm’s way.  Not that I am condoning a deliberate attempt to injure another cyclist in any circumstances, but the “victim,” it would appear, got what was coming to him.

It was a Sunday afternoon.  It was a rare (for this spring) warm April day.  The cyclists being passed were probably going slowly.  They might well have been a family.  They, along with the dog walkers, the septuagenarian couples taking walks, the second graders being taught how to ride their bikes, the riders stopped on the trail to take a cell phone call, and the rest of the human comedy that occupies the Trail on nice weekend days, can’t be expected to know or follow the Trail Rules.  If regular riders want to get out there on days like that, they have to ride slowly.  Period.

So it’s a shame it happened, and I am glad such events are very rare.  Two guys trying to squeeze too much intensity out of a rare recreational moment.

But I bet I know one guy who’s not going to be wearing his light green kit, donning his aero helmet, or riding his tri-bike for a while out on the Trail.

Copyright Arnold J. Bradford, 2018

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National Pastime

It’s April and the baseball season has started.  As a Nats fan I’d know the month without a calendar from the mere fact that Adam Eaton is on the DL.  Over the last three days we’ve been given reason to remember why this sport is our “national pastime,” amusing, entertaining, and thrilling us consistently for six months of competition and then another of postseason drama.

Three days ago the up-and-coming, but not there yet, Atlanta Braves jumped all over the ex-defending champ Chicago Cubs to lead 10-2 after 3 ½ innings.  It was still 10-5 going into the bottom of the 8th.  But in that frame the Cubbies scored nine runs, transforming a 5-run deficit into a 4-run lead.  This feat was accomplished not by a lot of long, loud hits thundering off Cub bats.  No, it was more the two hit batsmen, the wild pitch, and the 5 walks (four of them in a row, three of them RBI walks) that did it.  The Braves got two outs on the Cubs before the first of the nine runs scored.  The two singles and a double, the only Cub hits of the inning, were almost incidental.  The Wrigley crowd went home happy.

Colon hurls

Bartolo Colon gets all of his 285 pounds behind a pitch.

Next, a couple of days ago it was the all-Texas showdown between the Rangers and the Astros.  The Astros are the current defending World Series champs.  So naturally the Rangers sent out Bartolo Colon to quiet them down.  At 5’11” and 285 pounds, Colon is baseball’s version of a sumo wrestler.  He is rotund, but beneath the outer layer of fat lurks the body of an athlete, apparently.  Colon has pitched in the big leagues for 22 years, nearly a quarter of a century.  He’s been with 11 teams in both leagues, and as a member of the L. A. Angels he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, when he also led the AL with 21 wins.  Possessor of an efficient, low-stress delivery, he pounds the strike zone and pitches to contact.  But he is 44, and he almost didn’t find a team this year.  Yet against the Astros he was awesome.  He carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, and positioned the Rangers to win in ten, 3-1.  Forty-four, and nearly perfect.  Go figure.

And then there was last night’s Nats-Mets game, and another improbable rally.  As with the Cubs, the deficit was five runs, the homestanding Mets having racked up a 6-1 lead behind the strong hurling of Jacob deGrom, leader of a strong starting rotation and at least a couple of pounds lighter this season solely by virtue of former beard and flowing locks shorn to conventional athletic standards.  He carried his handy lead into the eighth, but after opening the frame by sandwiching a pair of hits around a whiff, he had thrown 103 pitches.  He was relieved, and the fat was in the fire.  Three more hits, a hit batsman, and four walks (2 of them RBIs) later, the Nats were up 7-6.  In the ninth the Nats got one more on a leadoff homer, and it looked like they’d need it after the Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera doubled with one out.  But in an inexplicably bonehead move, he attempted to steal third with the tying run at the plate and first base open.  He was out.  One out later, the Citi Field crowd went home unhappy.

What other sport can beat this combination of skill, derring-do, and luck, triumph and defeat?

Day One

Spring finally arrived in northern Virginia today.  It was in the mid-80s by late afternoon, breezy and wonderful, the first entire day that was truly like spring is supposed to be.  Nature was completely undaunted by any ominous omens of the calendar, which made it Friday the 13th.

Just three years ago yesterday I began my cancer treatment, quite a different spring regimen.  The aftereffects of the successful treatment have left me with less stamina and less determination to subject myself to discomfort.  So since 2015 I have not ridden my bike on the relatively more temperate days of midwinter or early spring.  All of the first three months of the year were on the exercise bike, or walking, and even these activities did not have the compelling allure they’ve had in years past.  But I was whipped into better shape by the visit of my daughter and granddaughter, who wanted to see the sights of our nation’s capital.  I was tested by Capitol Hill, challenged by the stairs of numerous subways, government buildings and museums, and generally called to consider that I was not too old to “use it” lest I “lose it.”

So this morning I was eager to get out on the W&OD Trail in the belated warmth of the season.  Couldn’t just pick up and go, of course.  I first discovered that we had no 2032 batteries to replace the dead one in my bike computer.  So off I went to CVS, returned and then sought out the manual that would allow me to reprogram the gadget.  After a mere 40 minutes from start to finish I had my electronic source of statistics back.  I’d carried over the mileage tally for 9 or 10 years, outlasting several batteries, but today I started over again at zero, because I think this is the beginning of a new era in my cycling life.

Coda

Jamis Coda Comp, my basic ride these days. That is a 52-tooth chainring.

Out in the garage my next challenge awaited.  Since the Jamis Coda had not been ridden since late September 2017, its tires were low despite my pumping them up once over the winter.  And sitting idle in the garage is not good for the drive train, particularly the chain.  Though I had oiled it in September, it was stiffened with rust and dirt.  Luckily the tires held air, and about ten minutes with a rag and chain oil got the drive train workable.  More oil for the cables, a readjustment of the rear brakes (new brake shoes needed soon!), and I was ready to suit up and go.  I decided on my trusty Kelme / Costa Bianca jersey, the colors of a European pro team of the Lance Armstrong era.  Sandro Botero rode for them, as did a couple of riders—Chechu Rubiera and Roberto Heras—who switched to Lance’s US Postal team and helped him win several of his seven straight Tours de France almost as much as PEDs helped him.

I took off with a lurking trepidation—would my body be up for this?  The plan was to ride just 11 miles, out to Hunter Mill Road and back.  No overkill on the first ride of the season.  I felt good on the bike, and going up Jackson Parkway and onto the right-of-way over to the Trail, I passed a couple of neighbors planting new bushes along the 50 or 60 foot paved link.  Everybody’s loving the warm air.  Once on the Trail, I found my strength and stamina were OK.  I was passing the really slow riders, was being passed by the strong ones, and dodging a number of walkers.  As always, I marveled at the convergence of roadblock groups, like the two moms pushing strollers side-by-side, and the walker passing them, spread out across the whole trail just when I wanted to go by.  My cheery “on the left” was not met with any rush on the walker’s part to get over quickly.  Cheeky!  I knew I had missed the Spring Peepers in the marshes of Difficult Run by about a month, and the bullfrogs too.   But on the way home some kind of froggy noises were emanating from Eudora Park, where Piney Branch flows.

I was feeling good as I approached my turnaround.  Inside my head something whispered “go ahead, you can do a few more miles.”  But I said “get thee behind me, Lance,” recognizing the voice of the temptation to do more than one is naturally capable of, whatever the price.  By about halfway home I realized how smart I had been to keep to my plan.  I was riding into a brisk quartering headwind, and all the muscles that were doing things unfamiliar to them were starting to ache: quads, shoulders, arm and hand muscles, knee joints.

Back at my desk, the computer said that my numbers for time and speed were in the same range I had reached near the end of last year.  So now it’s nothing but onward and upward.  I well may be out there again tomorrow because it’s supposed to be another warm day.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

I went to vote in a special school board election today. Had to go way around to the far back of Thoreau Intermediate School, my polling place. In the process I drove past an incredibly long pick-up line of parents waiting for kids, one per idling car, in the cool rain. I thought, “they could carpool.  They’d save gas, pollute the atmosphere less with their exhaust, and save the time of, let’s say, four parents, who could be waiting at home watching The Young and the Restless and painting their toenails until their happy kiddies are dropped off.”  OK, OK, just kidding about the soap opera and the nails.  But all it would take would be a little activist organization and maybe a PTA membership list to organize this.

Then it occurred to me they could go farther than that.  They could pool their resources and get a van, maybe with an innovative ecology grant from the County or Greenpeace.  That would pollute even less, and tie up fewer parent-drivers.  In fact, if they took the next step and hired a driver, they could probably cover the salary with the money they saved on time and gas sitting in that line.

schoolbus

Fisher-Price “Lil’ Movers” Bus

And a professional driver could control a bigger vehicle too.  It might be large enough so that you’d want it to be especially visible on rainy days like today.  So you could paint it a bright color, maybe yellow.  And then there’d be even less pollution, fewer cars on the road, and parents would have more flexible schedules and a freer day, especially when you consider they have to drive the kids in the morning.  A win-win-win situation!

You could spread the idea far and wide if you identified the vehicle so others would understand that they too could avoid those silly pick-up lines.  Just paint a single informative phrase on its side, let’s say “SCHOOL BUS.”  Oh, wait . . .

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017.

Notes from an August Baseball Weekend

  • Congrats to Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees, who by virtue of his pitching ineffectiveness, plus his failure to cover home and otherwise fully participate in the game, has become the best-paid 6th-inning mop-up man in the game at $21 million (2017 salary only).
  • In contrast, the Red Sox’ closer Craig Kimbrel faced 6 Yankees on Saturday and Sunday. Didi Gregorius, Yankee cleanup hitter, was the only one of them to put the ball in play.  He grounded out weakly.  The other five whiffed.
  • Aaron “Here Come De” Judge’s splits are fascinating.  Before the All-Star break he hit .329 with a 1.139 OPS.  Since then he has hit .169 with a .684 OPS.  In 58 plate appearances against the Red Sox so far this season he has hit .155, and only .083 in Fenway Park.  He now owns the all-time MLB record for striking out in consecutive games, at 38 and counting.  But the Yankees are still batting him third and playing him every day because he hits some long solo home runs.  Thanks, Joe Girardi.
  • Bartolo Colon, the rotund yet athletic hurler, is 44 years old.  Nicknamed “Big Sexy,” he is 5’11” and weighs 285 (officially).  He’s with the Twins, his third team this season, and with his victory over Arizona yesterday joins 17 other pitchers who have victories over all thirty MLB teams.  Colon is the visual definition of “old and out of shape,” but has enjoyed amazing success.  How to explain this?  A pact with the devil?  Consider that yesterday he pitched 6 innings, struck out 6, and ended the game with an ERA of 6.66.  Coincidence?  I think not!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

Fair Summer Day in New England

Last Wednesday the sun rose at 5:53 a.m. in Old Saybrook, CT.  Our bedroom window faced east, though, so we were probably aware of the approaching day before then, “first light” being at 5:23.  Time enough to roll over and snooze a bit more before breakfast.  Then a walk along the shore road to get muscles loose and blood flowing.

I sat for a bit of a rest on a bench looking out over Long Island Sound, as the tide continued its slow surge in.  Not more than five feet offshore, a cormorant dove and surfaced, dove and surfaced, submerging for just a few seconds.  Every time he came up with another bite-sized fish.  Often it shimmered silver in his beak for a second before he swallowed.  After about thirty or forty such bites, the bird made its way at a more purposeful pace, swimming toward the pointed rock where he and some of his friends hung out, drying feathers, scouting for food, and adding another layer of “whitewash” to their perch.  One of the ospreys from South Cove soared overhead, coming from behind my right shoulder, hanging a left over the shoreline, and winging away to the east.  It circled a couple of times, but did not do the hell-bent freefall dive of a fish hawk that has spotted prey.  Gulls and terns glided, wheeled, squawked; swallows silently pursued insects invisible to me.  The water was nearly calm close to shore, and just slightly rippled further out.  Later there would be whitecaps, as the almost-still wind freshened to a brisk onshore breeze and the flag on the pole by Seacrest Road rippled out due north.

river scene with boat

Connecticut River at East Haddam

By midmorning we were on a tour of the scenic area around Essex, Haddam, and other nearby towns along the Connecticut River.  Essex is one of the most beautiful river ports I’ve ever seen, with its shady old clapboard houses and their large trim lawns, jam-packed marina, and picture-perfect waterfront views.  We were glad of the lighter midweek traffic; apparently it’s hard to navigate on summer weekends.  Cruising on through small towns and rustic scenery, I got the sense I’ve often had that these landscapes are distinctively recognizable as New England.  Partly it’s the authentic Colonial architecture: wooden siding (not plastic or aluminum), with the boards laid close together (not 10” or 12” wide) to keep out wet and cold, shutters that still work or at least simulate that function, brick or stone chimneys atop functional fireplaces.  There are more evergreens and different deciduous trees from those where I live in Virginia.  I’m not sure what else goes into it, but the difference is unmistakable.

nest on bridge

Osprey Nest on East Haddam Swing Bridge

We stopped to stretch our legs near the East Haddam Swing Bridge, a truss structure over the Connecticut between East Haddam and Haddam.  From the shore we could see the osprey nest atop one of the bridge towers.  That pair has an unparalleled view up and down the river, and easy fishing.  The lot we parked in serves the Goodspeed Musicals building, an elegant early Victorian ex-opera house, which does a brisk summer business.

At lunch time we went to the Pizza Palace Restaurant, an exception to the excellent cooking offered by our hosts, Henry and Anne. But I was in pursuit of fried clams, and they said this was the place.  It was!  Anne and I shared a heaping plate of fried whole clams, with French fries and a mound of the best fried onion rings ever.  (Do you catch a “fried” theme here?)  Henry and Jane shared a pizza.  All of us left full and happy.

A lazy summer afternoon, with sun and sea breeze, led to another treat: a concert on the Old Saybrook Town Green.  We ate at home for convenience, but took some wine to sip.  It was a family event, starting at 6:30.  When we arrived, a number of families were already there.  Some were picnicking, others just talking.  Toddlers visited each other between family groups.  Two girls shot baskets on a court behind the green (and would still be doing it when we left).  Kids ran, walked, or rode tricycles on a paved path around war memorials, one for the “War of the Rebellion,” the other for the wars of the 20th century.  (It is to be noted that most French hamlets lost double or triple as many men in WW I as Old Saybrook has lost in all wars put together.)  In a large gazebo a three-man band warmed up.  Evening sun glowed warmly on a huge old butternut tree that presided over all.  The musicians were headed by a performer well versed in the rock-and-roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  We heard the songs of such artists as Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Del Shannon, whose hit “Runaway” opened the show and set the tone for the evening.  The lead man had an excellent voice for this kind of music, and his guitar work was impressively professional.  The music echoed through our youthful memories, and got my toes tapping.  Others, one couple in particular, went literally a few steps farther and danced in front of the stage.  The show went on, the kids quieted down and slept, the sunlight on the butternut tree faded.

When it was almost 8 o’clock, we picked up to head home for a nightcap.  We’d had fair weather and an excellent summer day.  The sun set in Old Saybrook at 7:56 p.m.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight

There has been a lot of talk lately about Amelia Earhart’s fate.  Did she crash into the sea, or land on a desert island and die, or fall into Japanese hands (the worst possibility, as the proprietors of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere were not kind to their prisoners)?  Just lately, conveniently close to the recent July 2 80th anniversary of her disappearance, a picture was released that claimed to show Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and her damaged Lockheed Electra 10E.  Trouble is that the figures are all distant, and the photograph’s resolution is less than excellent.  “Earhart” has her back to the camera, so she has to be identified by her garments and her haircut, neither of which can be seen clearly.

It seems to me that investigators have overlooked at least one, possibly two, other probable fates.  The more likely one is that Noonan was not what he seemed.  One of the close companions of the Prophet was one Nu’man bin Bashir.  One of the prominent characters of the Arabian Nights is a powerful Persian king named Omar bin al-Nu’uman.  It seems likely that the name “Fred Noonan” is a clever Anglicization of “Firdawsi al Nu’uman,” and that Earhart’s so-called Chicago-born navigator was actually an Islamic terrorist.  A few hours after they took off from New Guinea that July 2, they sent a message that all was well.  Then a half-hour later Amelia sent a frantic SOS, just about the time they were supposed to be landing on Howland Island to refuel.  Clearly, “Noonan” had wrestled the controls from her, and was deliberately crashing the plane.  She was too good a pilot to miss that landing strip.  It is said that the earliest radio transcriptions of the SOS contain Noonan’s muffled “allahu akbar” (“Allah is great”) in the background, but that portion was immediately redacted by the Secret Service, Because the US wanted to maintain good relationships with Middle Eastern oil producers in light of the anticipated warfare which indeed began a couple of years later.

amelia and her plane

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E

It’s worth noting, by the way, that a popular ballad called “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” has been sung by many a bluegrass, folk, and folk-rock band.  But almost all of them leave out the second verse of four.  The third verse, usually performed as the second, begins “A half an hour later an SOS was heard.”  A half-hour later than what?  Without the missing verse, the action has no context.  Why do this?  Because three verses, with the chorus after each one, and one-verse-long instrumental solos in between, add up to about three minutes, about as long as a song could be in the old days of 78 RPM records.  Hats off to the Greenbriar Boys, who include the real second verse:

She radioed position and she said that all was well,
Although the fuel within the tanks was low.
But they’d land on Howland Island to refuel her monoplane,
Then on their trip around the world they’d go.

One musically engaging performance among many is given by the Country Gentlemen, whose lead singer, Charlie Waller, had a wonderful tenor voice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9KLJsvjPXM

A less likely but interesting theory about the disappearance involves the possibility that Noonan’s muffled cry was actually “Ollie’s Auk Bar.”  This bar was a legendary hangout in Iceland, where some of the last Great Auks lived before their mid-19th century extinction.  The bar’s first proprietor, Oliver J. Pendragon, served roast Great Auk as the flagship dish of the place, with local Auk Ale (“Now that’s a great “Auk”!) to wash it down.  In this theory Noonan was actually a descendent of natives of Iceland, and his surname is a slangly English translation of his pagan Icelandic name, which literally means “he who worships the sun at its zenith”: “Noon ‘un.”  In this theory Noonan is lamenting his lost Icelandic past, since Ollie’s Auk Bar became less popular after the demise of its namesake meal.  Crashing the aircraft into the shark-infested Pacific would be the ultimate expression of the futility of life, the rendering of the aircraft as flightless as the extinct Great Auks of his far-away ancestral homeland.

Just a couple of theories, but they make as much sense as any of the others.

© Arnold Bradford, 2017