Spring Ride

March and April in Virginia do the back-and-forth on winds and showers.  Today March went out like a windy lamb, with temperatures that just grazed 70° here and winds gusting to 33 mph.  The showers were yesterday.  We got just a few tenths of an inch, while in parts of New England they were deluged with record rains and anticipate record-breaking flooding.  Having had our own version of natural cataclysm in December’s and February’s blizzards, I feel justified in taking a “sucks to be you” attitude about all that.  No offense, Sandra and Karl; I know you’re on high ground.

On this lamb-like day,then, I saddled up for my first ride in what I’d call “real Spring.”  Riding out the right-of-way the other day, I encountered a guy sweeping the asphalt track, crudded with all the fall and winter debris.  I just said “thanks for doing that” on the way by, feeling a secret comradeship with him as a fellow trail-lover, having cut away the fallen bamboo that made his work possible. Neighbors, communities, bond by these little private acts of civic consciousness.  Today the right-of-way was clear and warm and dry.  Ah!  At last.

The ride brought rich, pungent Spring smells: the sweet scent of magnolias, the less sweet scent of something that’s in bloom that smells like fish that’s just gone off–not the rank putrescence of full rot, but twelve hours or so, when you know you don’t want to get near it gastronomically, but it doesn’t conjure up the gag reflex either.  [To my beloved wife Jane, who thinks that all seafood odors conjure up the gag reflex: No they don’t–for me anyway.]  The deep, slightly acrid smell of raw earth turned over in a garden, and the strangely sweet and fulsome odor of composted manure.  The odd mixture of deodorant and sweat in passing runners; the odder combinations of perfume, shampoo, diapers, and sweat in walkers and joggers with babies in strollers.

Visual riches were also in evidence, including some magnolias in full bloom; not the large-leaved and gigantic-blossomed ones so redolent of the tropics, and beloved by artists like Martin Heade and Henri Rousseau.  No, more the ornamental magnolias, with their prolific but smaller blooms, quite intensely magenta around the edges.  Bradford pears and cherry trees are also much in bloom.  The former have pure white blooms and an upright growth habit; the latter have an extremely faint pink tinge and an umbrella sort of shape, looking something like a very delicate and impossibly lacy mushroom.  And their bark is nearly black.  Their petals are beginning to fall, so it’s easy to know the current wind quadrant by the direction in which they scuttle across the trail.

One of my lightweight but long-sleeved jerseys is an intense royal blue.  I wore it today.  It was not more intense than the royal blue of the sky, all the way down to the horizon.  These days are so rare; they generally appear only in the painting of 15th century Venetians.  I tend to think “the sky isn’t that color; they’re over-dramatizing it.”  But not today; Giovanni Bellini could not have exaggerated the blueness of the sky beyond today’s.  The air was in the mid-60s, the considerable wind from NNW.  Just enough heat to keep you warm, and just enough breeze to keep you from getting too warm.  Perfect.

Today Spring was truly a lamb, with a bit of breeze.  I hope for much more of this in April.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


Random Temptations

All things can tempt me from this craft of verse:
One time it was a woman’s face, or worse–
W. B. Yeats

Temptations not to ride/write much or well are legion.  Even with bloggers, much less the world’s greatest poet of the 20th century.  I’ve had a great vacation followed by a great week with good classes and an inspiring meeting, followed by a descent of family for a celebration of my wife’s 60th birthday.  Too much good food and wine.  Many friends and casual pleasures.  Not enough time to exercise properly, and less to ride outdoors in this uncoöperatively windy and chilly weather.  Now we’re looking at two more days of rain. . . . Cooking quite a bit over the last few days, I reconnected with the joys of doing so.  Simple stuff, such as angel food cake not from scratch but from Duncan Hines.  Still, my forte never was pastries.  I am refocusing on innovative tastes, but simple preparations with in-season local ingredients.  Another criterion is healthy, low-fat foods.  I am not a vegetarian, but I want to avoid large portions of meats (and everything else). . . . I also want to make sure that every time I ride, I am in a strong nutritional situation.  No starvation, but intelligent diet, in advance of a ride.  Proper hydration with less alcohol intake. . . . This season has been one of fits and starts so far.  There have been constant breaks in the routine, caused by travel, social obligations, and weather.  I need to narrow and refine my diet focus to make the most of the next few weeks. . . . And I have reading to do.  Ever hear of David Foster Wallace?  A new discovery for me, though I find I have read a piece by him on Maine lobsters.  Focus, refine!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

In the Groove

Sometimes I can over-think the obvious.  Happened a couple of times on the cruise, when our championship trivia team thought the obvious answer to a question was just too easy.  (“On what ship did the Pilgrims set out for North America?”  The answer is the Speedwell, which they bought in Holland and sailed to Southampton, England , to pick up others, including “civilian” non-believers, who were on the Mayflower.  Both ships set off  from there.  The Speedwell leaked, so they both went back to England and all boarded the Mayflower for a second start.  We said Speedwell, technically correct but not the obvious answer that was wanted.)  Happened, perhaps, on the e-bike when I tried lots of different formats.  My body just didn’t feel quite right when I adjusted the seat by an inch, the time by five minutes, the pace by a few heartbeats per minute.  Today I simply went back to a basic routine: ten minutes of stretching exercises before the ride, a five-minute warm-up at the beginning, and a 40 minute ride.  Everything seemed in the groove.  My body sensed the familiar pattern.   I was strong, efficient, and focused on getting into prime riding condition at a modest heartbeat level of 122, about twice my resting heat rate.  It all worked; I was still in the groove as I went in to GU to teach.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Riding Again

About 10:00 EDT Sunday morning I waved to a bunch of bike riders.  They were heading north through the Inwood neighborhood of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  It was a cool but promisingly sunny morning, and they were all in their fancy gear, many on very nice bikes, and one even waved back.  I was also in transit, heading south toward Riverside Drive and the George Washington Bridge.  It’s a route Jane likes to take through her old neighborhood when we drive from Connecticut to home in Virginia.

After an eleven day vacation hiatus (two shipboard workouts excepted) from exercise I was itching to get out and ride myself, and I envied those Manhattan cyclists their sunny day and open roads.  We saw quite a bit of the open road ourselves as we took the Interstates southward.  But even when I drive, the cyclist in me is alert, noticing the occasional rider (this time there was a brave/mad cyclist right at the top of the approach ramp on the GW Bridge, apparently oblivious to the safe cycling lane and sidewalk on the other side of the barrier) and assessing the uphill climbs as potential cycling challenges.  There’s a great one of these which we go over right after we leave Anne & Henry’s, between Cheshire and Naugatuck along Route 10 over the hill at the top of which lies the village of Prospect.  It’s about 11 miles over, and 11 more back–a decent ride considering the insistent climb each way.  I have it just about completely analyzed now (well paved, good shoulders, difficult but manageable), and plan to take my bike with us sometime so I can really do the ride.

You never know about traffic on the 6 hour stint we performed Sunday, but it was good to us that day, and we made it in 5 hours 45 minutes travel time.  Thanks to EDT there was still plenty of light in the sky, so after a joyous reunion with the cats and a little unpack/unwind activity I jumped on my ride to make sure I got a piece of the abnormally warm mid-March weather.  What a joy to be out, even if every other Sunday activity-seeker thought so too.  I took the Trek on a trip we always like, a trail-and-road combination between Vienna and Shirlington, and then back to North Arlington and up around a circuit of hilly streets until I rejoin the trail in West Falls Church for the ride home.  It was too lovely a day to mind the crowded trail–the empty streets were more than adequate compensation.  And every ache in my body from the long drive was erased by the action of pedaling.  As I dismounted I knew that the rain forecast for Monday would be easier to accept.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


On the face of it, nothing is more counterproductive to cycling than vacation.  I have had too many of these hiatuses.  This last week I have found myself on the Norwegian Cruise Lines “Norwegian Gem,” on a seven-day tour of the allegedly warmer climes of south Florida/the Bahamas.  We just got back on terra firma today, and for the last seven hours I have continued to feel the swaying of the boat in my legs.  The Sea does not relinquish its grasp easily.

My time away from the bike is now at eleven days.  I hope fervently to be cycling indoors tomorrow and outdoors Monday, though the forecast for DC is calling for rain.  But I did take exercise clothing onboard, and actually got in a couple of sessions to ward off total atrophy.  As a would-be athletic guest on a cruise ship, which is nothing more than a huge, horizontal floating hotel, you find every facility.  They had a jogging route on the 13th level, the deck above the swimming pools.  As I jogged, or walked, this path (5.5 circuits = 1 mile) I passed a driving range, shuffleboard courts, miniature golf, and an area that could be used for tennis, basketball, or soccer (sort of), though not all at once.  All that would bespeak good health and vigorous exercise, except for the 35 to 40 mph winds that prevailed for much of the cruise, along with air temperatures on the open sea of 45 to 55 degrees.  I actually saw a couple trying to play tennis in that wind.  Neither had much form, and the wind robbed them of any semblance of success.

More sane was the scene in the gym on level 12.  It had three rooms: a weight room, a class room (for calisthenics and spinning), and a room of various machines, including six exercise bikes.  The bikes were multi-functional thanks to advanced computer chips, and I found myself on them for a couple of good sessions at least (when you’re part of a group on vacation it does seem a bit anti-social to wander off too often).

From our Level 9 cabin I ran up the three flights to the gym (somehow riding an elevator to exercise seems idiotic).   Both times I chose were when few others were looking to work out, and I had the bikes to myself.  The treadmills were much more popular.  These bikes had many great functions, leaving my home machine looking mighty inadequate.  I chose one without a TV screen, preferring to look out over the vast, gray, blank, North Atlantic.  And once I figured out how to program the machines after false starts I had my warmup time taken care of.  There is something surreal about looking ahead into a blank blue-gray vista with no focus and no destination, but it does reinforce the idea that exercise is for the sake of the moment, and not for an ongoing journey.  It keeps your muscles tuned up and your psyche still longing for a real ride.  Just do it! [Swoosh]

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

Trek 2.1

A year ago August, my loving wife Jane acceded to my wishes to get a new bike, and made it her birthday gift to me.  I was originally looking for a carbon fiber bike on sale, and thought I had one lined up.  But I ended up opting for a brand new Trek 2.1, that has a smooth-welded aluminum frame, carbon forks, stays, and seat post, and a modest-level Shimano drive train (for full details see the Specs page).  Furthermore, it has an almost identical paint job to last year’s high-end Trek Madone, so successfully raced by Team Astana.  It’s a flashy combination of white and subtly gradated shades of blue.  I’d be watching the Tour of California and say “Hey, that’s Leipheimer on my bike!”

Since I got this bike I have loved riding it, perhaps because it is exactly right for my physical measurements.  I don’t get tired on long rides, and (once I got used to it) the seat has been a paragon of comfort.  Every time I return from a spin on the Trek I want to remind Jane that I really love this bike.  Yesterday’s 32 mile ride was no exception.  I know I can go as fast on this bike as I am able to make it go.  So when I want to pass somebody on the trail I wait for an opening and then it’s full speed ahead.  The bike accelerates in an almost astonishing way–when I power the pedals the machine almost seems ready to take off and ride itself out from under me.  It’s hard to ride it at a leisurely rate because it just seems to want to go fast.  But I occasionally make it stop and smell the roses.

The ride is stiff thanks to the aluminum, but not so stiff that every road bump is a shock.  That’s the result of the carbon components.  I like the combination of a little ‘give” around the edges and a rock-stable core.  In terms of good engineering, quality construction, and solid road “feel,” this bike is it.  So yesterday, after a great run, I thanked Jane once again.  Nice bike!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.


Yesterday was the first day of the year that felt a bit spring-like.  Snow was rapidly melting, including the big iceberg left by the VDOT front loaders across our sidewalk and lawn.  It had a little help on the way out, thanks to Jane’s stomping and my using the garden spade’s blade like a gem-cutter’s tool to break off chunks and consign them to the gutter.  It was warm enough for me to get out the hose and wash two cars and two bikes.  For the cars, the mission was to ascertain that they are still Metallic Maroon and Hunter Green respectively, despite their generally Road Grime Grey color scheme since mid-December.  For the bikes, it was a mission to get off the grit, spray the sand particles out of the drive train, and re-oil the chains and cables.  Though the sun was out, and the vestigial snow mounds quickly shrinking, the northeast wind that cut through my Clyde’s sweatshirt was still biting.

Today, on the other hand, was the first day of the year that really was spring-like.  So I mounted up my spick-and-span Trek, my main ride, and took a routine spin.  I could have done this yesterday had it not been for the need to wash vehicles, plus the fact that my legs were really tight after a previous three days of hard riding in winter mode, on the Fuji, with a session on the mag trainer thrown in.

I guess you’d say that I committed to the reality of spring’s approach Saturday, when I took the Coda off the mag trainer and set out on a 28-mile ride.  That ride felt so great, even though I had to “portage” over the snow bank at the junction or the right-of-way, both going out and coming back.  In between, I verified that snow is melting all the way out to the western reaches of Herndon, but also that there’s a winter’s worth of debris, salt, sand, and road detritus in the so-called bike lanes of Fairfax County roads.  Not that I want to whine; I’m still grateful that the Northern Virginia Park Authority plowed the Trail.  They did a much better job of it than VDOT did on the roads.  None of the plow-induced gouges, pits, and potholes that have made Rockbridge Street a prime candidate for repaving.

But today the wind actually felt warm, or at least cool rather than biting and frigid.  The Trek felt practically weightless, and I was really grooving on the whole route down to Shirlington.  No idiot trail-hogging dog walkers or mass walking groups clogging things–another reason I did not go out yesterday (Sunday) was the understandable clogged Trail I found Saturday, when everybody and her sister was out for the first time in seven weeks.  But today, Monday, most of them were working and their dogs and kids were holding it until somebody comes home from work.  So the Trek flew, until I had to turn around to head for home and hit a stronger-than-expected headwind.  Even that was OK.  The Trek felt fast, and even though my average speed wasn’t great, I knew that I was on the way back to in-season conditioning.  It’s hard not to smile at everybody along the trail when you’re feeling so into it, drunk with the winds of spring and the joy of the sun.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.